Friday, February 18, 2011

The Long Road: Back on Track

Despite my best efforts, my novel has ballooned beyond rational proportions. Five hundred pages, and only one-third of the way done. Worse, my plot is fundamentally flawed.

I don't know how I got this far without seeing these large, gaping holes in logic and character motivation. How I missed that I was forcing plot so I could have character development, rather than the other way around, or at least plot and character working in tandem. The story's trail had grown murky, and I was mired in a swampy plot that was sucking me under.

Almost two weeks ago I stopped writing completely. I debated setting the story aside. Completely. Just abandoning it. The option was more appealing than not, but I've come this far, so I gave it one more try. Printing out the novel, I began to read it, looking for ideas and solutions to my plot problems.

I brainstormed. I wrote pages and pages of notes and possibilities. After 500 pages of plotting and writing toward one storyline, it was difficult to look at it with fresh eyes, almost impossible to see how new ideas would fit in.

Reading the novel helped. It took the pressure of daily writing off me, and it showed me that there were some good places. It reminded me of the characters as I'd originally envisioned them. It—horribly, wonderfully—made me realize that I should be writing the novel from the first person (as I began) and not the third person (as I wrote the last 300 pages).

It did not clarify how I could fix the novel.

Last Saturday, armed with plot notes and detailed character descriptions, Cody and I sat down over lunch and I explained the problems. I explained my "solutions" and why they wouldn't work, the holes they still had. Cody tried to help, but there's a fundamental difference in the way we think: he's a plot-driven thinker, I'm a character-driven thinker. All his solutions seemed too deus ex machina for me, with the characters reacting. All mine did not make the plot cohesive. We called a halt to the discussion when Cody's ideas started to attempt to convert my fantasy to a science fiction, stopping before I got angry and too frustrated to enjoy the rest of the day.

I considered the lunch a complete waste. Nothing new (and usable) had been presented. I considered the best thing to come from it this: As we were driving away from the restaurant, Cody said, "It doesn't matter what you're writing, as long as you're writing." Meaning, after I'd expressed my thoughts of giving this novel up to the writing gods as a sacrificial manuscript, he was supporting me, saying he knew whatever I was doing was right, so long as I keep writing. I was affronted! I couldn't give up now. There was a novel here! Somewhere. I would find it. And there was no way he could make me stop writing!

Still, while we hit three different grocery stores for the week's food supply, I poked at the story ideas in my head, coming up with no solutions. When we got home, I got on the elliptical machine. Just me, the machine, and my thoughts. No TV or radio or company for distractions. I ran. I thought about the novel.

When the solution came to me, it was so simple in its brilliance. One statement, and the rest of the problems dropped away, the plot realigned to match this new truth, the complexity of the story grew, and best yet, the character development deepened.

Ironically, the solution was a story fact I'd tossed off the cuff at lunch, not realizing its importance. It was so fundamental, it was almost like it didn't need to be stated. When the thought resurfaced on the elliptical machine, it stretched like an arrow through the plot, impaling plot and characters with equal skill.

It was also an original idea, one I'd shied away from detailing mostly because it involves an issue I don't want to explore in my own head. I resisted. Resisting wasted so much time and energy.

I've made peace with the idea now, just as I've made peace with the pages I can keep (about a hundred, tops), and with how much writing is still ahead of me (to finish and to rewrite the beginning).

I'm moving forward again, making visible, positive progress, and I know the story is stronger for it. I hope to never have to go through this extensive process again. I'll be watching for storylines I resist in the future. It probably means I'm onto something good. For now, though, I'm content to be back on track.

1 comment:

Marc said...

I don't remember if you've mentioned this, but do you outline? Outlining could have saved you this headache and it's not as restrictive as people seem to believe.