Tuesday, August 17, 2010
When In Doubt, Throw Everything Out and Start Over
WriteOnCon was an intense ride. I learned so much in such a short period (3 days!). Top that off with the final for my intensive summer class (as of Thursday I am officially class-free for two weeks!), and my already slushy mind simply melted into sticky sugar water. I'm still trying to piece everything together and make sense of it.
One post (series) that impacted me from the conference was from agent Weronika Janczuk (and if I didn't love her from her posts, I would because her name is Polish!) on pacing and plotting—click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3. I focused on her descriptions of plot arcs, what should happen in the first 1/4, the middle 1/2, and the last 1/4 of the novel, how to build tension, etc., etc., and applied it to my current painful revisions of WiP #1.
I'm not willing to admit that my first round for WiP #1 didn't somewhat conform to the formula set forth in these posts. It did. But I believe it can be better. Scratch that. While it does conform to the increasing tension and tight climax in the last 10%, it's a mediocre story at best, and a complete overhaul will help it shine.
Add to Weronika's posts this vlog by author Kimberly Derting. I don't write YA thriller/suspense, but that doesn't mean there aren't ample lessons in this vlog on how to build suspense that can be applied to any genre. As I contemplated Kimberly's words with Weronika's echoing in my sugary mind, ideas of suspense-building mingled with my pondering of story arcs, and I realized, huh, this could be more suspenseful.
My story is told in 1st person (for now). In the "original" story, my MC finds out some key information less than halfway through the story. I realized I could increase the suspense by delaying her discovery. I've been outlining for a couple of days now a complete overhaul of the story, trying to put the events in a proper order to delay discovery, continually increase the tension, and raise the stakes in the climax.
Finally, I'd like to throw into the mix this post from Helen Ginger's post on the Blood Red Pencil—Writers are Hookers. Beyond the inevitable giggle this invokes in me (yeah, even a few days later), she makes a beautiful point about where the story (and each scene) needs to begin. After reviewing my first 4-6 chapters for over a month now, I'm almost willing to throw out the first two chapters. They are mostly background information, and I know that. I hesitate because I feel like it's important, but we all know that this information can be incorporated later. And some of it has been moved through recent, pre-overhaul revisions, meaning that leaving it upfront is redundant.
To risk getting a little weepy, part of my hesitation in the complete overhaul is strongly personal. This story began as a part of my recovery process after my father passed away. While a strong part of me yearns to be professional and know what needs to get slashed and burnt to make this puppy publishable, deep down I want to leave it, considering it a sacred tribute to my dad. It's a little silly—my father's nowhere to be seen in the entire story—but that doesn't stop the emotional connection and the need to protect my baby from the red-line.
What I've decided, based on this final post by Jennifer Hubbard, is that I don't have to throw anything away. (Okay, I knew that, but it's nice to have the reinforcement.) I can keep the sacred version of my story, the one that makes me think of my struggle and my progress in recovery, and I don't have to share it with anyone but myself. I can love it and baby it and wrap it in a huge security blanket and save it from the big, bad publishing world forever. But I can also take the bones, the deep structure (Snicker, GB linguistics out there! Snicker!), the character histories, etc., and weave them together with this new and improved baby, one that I'm willing to raise and help mature into an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the brutal publishing industry. I'll teach it not to take criticism personally—my baby could never learn that. I'll mold it into a giant who will box its way onto the desk of an agent, causing said agent to swoon. After rebandaging its fearsome hands, stopping the bloody nose and tending to its swollen lip, it will be ready to move from the agent's desk to that of the publishers, who will also love and adore it...
Man, am I getting ahead of myself! I haven't done anything more than work on the outline. I need to stop daydreaming and get to work.
How do you feel when you have to start over? The more seasoned writers out there must not do this as often, but I know we have all done it at one point or another. Have you ever coddled something despite its disrepair? How long did it take you to admit that some work had to move permanently onto the shelf?