Monday, September 03, 2012

Writing Life: The Wrong Novel

The backstairs at Fembo House in Nuremberg, Germany
I'm using this house, the City Museum, as a model for the house in my story

I'm flailing again.  This is not a surprise.  Another story is out being reviewed by a friend right now and I've happily turned to my historical novel again.  Well, I happily turned to it last week but I'm feeling unhappy about it now.

My usual refrain:  I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

I've been working on this novel for years.  I crossed the Atlantic to research the setting and I have laid out scene after scene.  I've also written back stories for the two main characters...and the back stories are more cohesive than this huge mess of a novel I've been staring at.  On the bright side, I have an embarrassment of riches will which serve me well later.  But it's not later, it's right now, and I have to figure what to do with the current story.

In a way this is a really good place for me.  The historical novel was my first real novel and the first draft was a complete story with character development, a comprehensive plot with twists, and a story arc.  It was also the wrong story.  How does that work, you ask?  How do you write at least 125 pages of a novel where everything fits and there's plenty of suspense and character development, and it's a complete story?  How can that story not be the right one?  Another writer (most likely an inexperienced one) might also say "But you have a novel!  What's wrong with it?"

Here's the thing, at least for me:  just because you write a story with characters and setting and stuff and you manage to write a story (beginning, middle, end) with some decent elements doesn't mean it's the right story.  What's important to note is that this particular story, the wrong one, isn't wasted time.  You've learned something about your characters and the world you've built and hopefully you can take some story elements and use them when you draft the right story.

I attribute this "write an entire novel but not the right one" as a combination of my formidable imagination, innate ability for telling stories, and simple writerly inexperience.  I will note that I have not had this problem since.  Usually my first draft is pretty much on par with the story I want to tell.  I may have to do some major expanding of certain story elements or add some scenes to flesh things out but I'm generally right there with the story.  The current novel is not right there. I knew the story I drafted wasn't right but I didn't know why and tried many things (and many tangents) to figure out what was wrong with it.  I wandered around in the desert of my novel for a good long time before the characters did something to scare the hell out of me and everything came to standstill.  I was so freaked out that I didn't know what to do and attempted to write myself out of that particular situation but that didn't work so I finally made peace with things and moved forward in that direction.  Or rather I ran to catch up with my characters.

And it's the right direction BUT I now have all these bits and pieces from laying down so many earlier scenes.  Some might work, some definitely won't but I don't even know how to start the clean up.

I signed up for a revision writing course online (Holly Lisle - How to Revise Your Novel) which is comprehensive and a ton of hard work.  This past week I've been debating about whether I should continue to work on this novel by working my way through Holly's course or if I should continue to flail.

Right, so I've obviously answered my own question there.  By the way, the course costs money but in my opinion is money well spent.  I recommend checking out her website for tons of free writing articles.  Her methods may not work for you but I like her nuts-and-bolts approach.

I made a comment earlier about this being a good place for me.  What I meant is I can see that I've progressed in my writing because I'm not writing entire novels where the story is completely wrong anymore.  This is a gratifying thing to notice about yourself as a writer.

So what am I going to do now?  How am I going to stop wringing my hands and wondering where to start?  I suppose I'll get my money's worth and finish Holly's very intense but I'm sure exceptionally useful course.  All six months worth of lessons and more of actual work.  I keep telling myself I can do it faster on my own but that's just bullshit.  I can barely write a 100 page story in less than a friggin' year much less something that's more than double that page count.

Everything takes so damn long.  Oh well.  I guess I better get cracking...

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