Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Writer's Miscellany

For followers of my blog, I apologize for my recent silence. I've been thinking.

I may have mentioned that my agent indicated she planned to send me a revision letter--and she did. I've been pondering it and writing in general, hence my silence.

The letter was for a manuscript that managed to snag two agents but no editors, more's the pity. So, instead of a revision letter, my agent and I had a long talk about what could be changed to make it more saleable to editors.

The night of our talk, I just felt numb and afraid I couldn't make the manuscript as good as it needed to be. Oh, let me make a few things clear: I had already primed myself with a "can-do" attitude because I wanted to make this work, so that wasn't the entire problem. The things we discussed were all things that will make the book better (well, I'm not sure about the s-e-x scene stuff, but I put that in the category of "do you want to make a sale or not?" so I'm not going to fret over it). What I wasn't sure--and am still not sure--about was whether my skills will be good enough to do what must be done.

When I hung up the phone with her, I was also unable to figure out how to implement the changes. I had a strong, self-destructive urge to stick a metaphorical stake through the heart of the book and rip out all the "sparkle" (witty interchanges between the hero and heroine) to make it darker and more realistic, two of the things suggested for the revisions. Sort of: Okay, if they want it darker and more realistic, G-D-it, I'm make it freakin' darker and more realistic. All their witty conversations--gone. Bing, bang, gone.

This self-destructive mood lasted about two days. Then, I could sit back and try to think about ways of making it more realistic without destroying the sparkle--which was the foundation of my love for the story and the two main characters. Without the wry conversations between the hero and heroine, it would be just a blah, plodding book to me.

So...I finally sat back and tore a few sheets off the hotel notepad next to the phone (yes, I've also been on travel the entire week--another excuse for my silence, other than just being stunned and depressed--oh, and they lost my luggage. And I was exhausted from the time change, and it didn't help when they delivered my luggage at midnight but anyway...). I labeled one sheet Charlotte (my heroine) and the other sheet Nathaniel (my hero) and I sat down to really crystalize why they acted the way they did and how I could bring out the pathos in Charlotte's position more. Make it all more realistic. Previously, for the sake of staying "light" I glossed over a lot of the details of her rather dismal circumstances. I decided this was a mistake, because even in a comedy, you need a few "Oh, no..." moments and dead bodies aren't enough.

After working an hour or so and developing ideas, my plane was late coming home so instead of arriving around 3pm, I got home MUCH later in the middle of the night, oh...sorry, I digress. Anyway, so, I developed a few more ideas and felt a little better and less bent-on-destruction of the manuscript. Then, yesterday I went to a writing seminar featuring Stephanie Bond ( who I highly recommend and she further stimulated my meager brain cells so now I'm firing on maybe 3 out of 4 cylinders and am actually thinking of starting to tackle this revision thing. I'd like to finish the revisions before I meet with my agent at the end of July, so that's my target.

What decisions did I come to and could they help you?
There were four main things I want to tackle immediately. You might want to consider them, too, because they are mistakes a lot of authors--even published ones--make.

First, you have to start with the main character of your story because that's the one the readers will bond with. I started mine with a scene including the hero--which was good--but not good enough. The scene was a card game where the hero's uncle wins an heiress. The problem is, the uncle is already married. Okay, that's beside the point, but you see how I drifted off toward the uncle there? That's where I'm going wrong...although it is an important point to remember.

Here are the things to consider and where I failed the first time. It's where I plan on not failing this time.
1) Could I cut the first scene at White's club because it doesn't include the heroine? This was not a requested revision, but I wanted to make sure I had a reason for each scene in the book. I considered cutting it but decided "no" because:
  • It's a short prologue and I'm going to make it shorter - hopefully less than 1.5 pages
  • It includes the hero
  • It's necessary to set up the heroine's situation without later going into backstory or making her issues seem less important or more contrived
  • It reveals something about both the hero, Nathaniel, and the Archers who are going to be Charlotte's guardians.
One of the hero's problems is that he's titled, rich, young, and handsome, and women are falling all over themselves to trap him into marriage. He's sick of it. Since this fact is one of the reasons he is at the all-male club, White's, I have to put that right up front. I should start with this. It will lay out his situation from the beginning--he is at White's to get away from women (and to relax with his uncle).

If you look at all the really great books, the first sentence often covers the main character's situation and/or conflict. That's change 1 for me.

2) Chapter 1 introduces Charlotte. While Charlotte reveals to her new guardians that she's been shifted from one family to the next, I didn't follow through with her asking how she happened to come to have the Archers as her guardians. She doesn't know they won her in a card game. Part of her problem is that everyone treats her like a leper, although on the surface, she ought to be very popular since she's an heiress. But she gets shifted from one family to the next and it hurts. Deep down, it really hurts, and as a result, all she wants is to get control of her inheritance and leave England. She has dreams of becoming an explorer in Egypt--anything to get away from her misery.

In Chapter 1, I need her to ask the Archers how it is they are now her guardians. They aren't going to give her a direct answer--the Archers have a bit of the con artist about them and are as cagey as heck, and they wouldn't dream of hurting her by telling her they won her in a card game--but the point is, I need to have her ask--to betray this deep hurt and sense of not belonging anywhere.

My agent and Stephanie Bond made the point that even in a comedy, you need a little pain. It's the contrast that gives the story depth.

3) Delete the kidnapping sub-plot. Sigh. I did the inexperienced author's mistake of throwing in everything except the kitchen sink as far as the plot. I had too much going on. Okay, so I never have sagging middles (goody for me) however I also don't have enough depth to the main plotlines, which are the romance and the murder mystery. I needed to focus on those two strands and develop them more thoroughly.

Interestingly, when I used the word "delete" my agent almost panicked. She said, "No, no, not delete--save it and use it in another book." My guess is that she was also very fond of that plotline--it opened the door to a lot of chuckly scenes and situations, so okay, when I used the word "delete" I meant remove it from this book. I'll keep it maybe, someday, use the subplot in another book. It really was sort of funny and that's why I threw it in.

I was trying to do what Stephanie Bond suggested: i.e. show your main character in a variety of environments because people act differently in different situations and by seeing this, it lends reality and depth to the characters. However, while this was a lofty goal, I was trying to do this via an entire subplot and that didn't work. I need to show Charlotte interacting in other venues, just in the normal plotlines so I can focus and develop those.

Focus on your main plot and perhaps a subplot--don't include so many subplots or make your plot so complex that you don't have time to develop the characters and follow through with the main plot itself.

4) Make sure you develop your characters and plots--give them depth. This sort of repeats part of what I said in point three. Show the main character (in my case, Charlotte) in a variety of situations so we can see the different facets of her personality and make her real. Develop the mystery plot more and show how solving the mystery brings Charlotte and Nathaniel together.

Although my manuscript did solve the mystery and bring Charlotte and Nathaniel together, I did not go into this much or show how it was really affecting them. I left a lot up to the reader's imagination. This isn't always bad, but in my case, I left out too much. Part of that was because I had too much going on. And I'm not a big fan on introspection because it's too tempting and too easy to get bogged down in a lot of belly-button gazing.

Summarizing this point would look an awful lot like the summary to point three, so I'll just say: Focus on and explore how your characters develop and how the plot affects them. That's the point of the story, after all.

That's good for starters. Now I just need to buckle down and make this manuscript something no editor can resist.

Easy, right?

No comments: