I believe I have recently made a stride along the long, often wearisome road that is Writer’s Way. Learning from a previous foray into the world of literary representation: I redrafted, edited, formatted and sought a professional critique and report on the opening section of my new novella. My previous attempts, a few years ago, found me with my very first novel, blindly happy and sure that if I could see the brilliance of my fantasy story, somewhere an agent would too. A few months later and a handful of rejections, I decided that perhaps my novel wasn’t quite as brilliant as I’d supposed. (It wasn’t).
Over the last year or so I have learnt a lot about crafting a good story, reading lots of fiction in various genres, reading other writers’ work on forums and practising with short stories, as well as continuing to work on longer projects. Anyway, long story short as expected from my critique and report: I still have some way to go!
I’m still guilty of committing some of the 7 deadly sins of novel writing. Great tips from Angela Ackerman on this page if you haven’t read it:
- Low stakes
- Counterfeit characters
So bring on the redrafting!
My editor said:
“Editing is a long and arduous process – I’m always in the throes of editing one thing or another, and boy does it never get any easier.”
This rings true in a blog I’ve enjoyed reading by the author Penn on the Creative Penn:
who quotes Anne Lamott as saying “write shitty first drafts…” and continuing to say “you can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them.”
I think it’s important to remember this along the writing journey, whatever stage you’re at. By putting pen to paper or fingers to type-pad – you’ve already come so far. The execution of your idea may need work, but it exists and can thus be refined so that it is as great as you first conceived it.
In my redrafting I am going to focus closely on plot and narrative vehicle. I was reminded of Jam
es Scott Bell’s book Write Great Fiction – Plot and Structure when working through my critique:
He breaks plot and structure down very simply with obvious examples. I have read this and a number of books and blogs littered with such advice, but am still guilty of a little self-delusion and categorising some of my narrative as sound and necessary.
Bell explains the importance of driving the story’s narrative:
” (The) Lead’s normal world. A place of safety and rest, is on one side of the doorway. Problems may happen here, but they don’t threaten great change. Lead is content to stay here. Something has to happen to push him through the door.”
Again, it reminds me that everything I show my characters doing, everything they think and feel must be necessary, must show the reader something more about them, but always drive the story on-wards. Bell quotes Hitchcock as an example:
“Alfred Hitchcock once said that a good story was life, with the dull parts taken out.” and wisely counsels all us authors to bear this in mind when writing.
With regards character, I believe I’m finally beginning to understand what F. Scott Fitzgerald meant by:
“Character is plot, plot is character.”
I’ve heard this kind of take on the two so many times before, but my editor honed his point, mentioning his interview with the novelist Francis Hardinge who said:
“I’m not particularly nice to mine (characters) – the heroine’s father is disgraced; her mother oppressive; they move to an island where the entire community goes against them; it gets worse and worse. This gives your heroine a chance to shine through.”
What I thought was enough of a dilemma for my heroine isn’t and in order to truly be real and show her character – she must suffer more.
So it’s back to the drawing board! I will restructure until my crooked doorways are sturdy structures capable of carrying my heroine through on the tides of change.