For most of the time I’ve been a writer, I’ve crowed about the virtues of story planning. I started singing this song in 2009, just before joining it with the harmony of the ePublishing revolution, and I’ve not stopped singing it since.
And now, befitting irony and justice, it comes back to bite me in the a$$.
I took a look at my finished manuscript last weekend, and a couple of times this week. If you don’t know me well, let me clue you in on something. I’m very good at looking at things and contemplating them. Getting stuff done? That’s someone else’s expertise. Mine’s the staring and thinking. I do a lot of writing in my head, too. Just staring out the window or into the middle distance and letting the mind write fantastic stories certain to change the world and entertain the masses. For which they will throw piles and piles of money at me and I shall forever be wealthy and happy.
The fingers freeze up when they hit the keyboard though, so there’s not a lot of actual writing going on. Just mental writing.
Now you know more about how I write than you ever wanted to, right? Let’s get back to the main point, which is the a$$-biting.
I looked over my manuscript, as I said, and I set out to do a couple of things in making it ready for publication.
- Get it done as quickly as possible;
- Remove the tripe without editing the life and vibrancy out of it this time;
- Shoring up the structure with the story architecture tools I’ve been touting.
I figured, if I can do those things, I’m in like Flynn, right?
As I started editing I came across a couple of more tidbits of information, which I knew but somehow misplaced in the jumble of clutter which composes my brain.
- Fiction work should not include chit-chat dialog and every agonizing angst of travel, setting and descriptions;
- Fiction writers must start their scenes at the last possible moment to keep the reader entertained and turning pages.
Alfred Hitchcock, in my opinion, said it best: “Fiction is life with the boring parts removed.” Or something like that. Don’t quote me trying to quote him.
Anyway, as I started editing my so-called “manuscript”, guess what I found? Not only did I include chit-chat (the “banter” between my two primary characters), but I included boring parts, and travel directions, and setting and … uh-oh.
I’ve not looked at this dog in a long time, and baby, it’s got fleas aplenty.
So I sort of had this panic attack about how I’m going to do this. Not only is the structure sucky, but the writing itself isn’t stellar either. I went through this thing back in 2010 and hacked the hell out of it, removed everything not story-moving, but that left me with something barebones and sort of lifeless. More like a “Fun with Dick and Jane” reader than something you’d want to sit beside a fire with on a chill autumn eve. I took out too much, which is why I was re-editing instead of re-writing.
I sat back in my chair and tried to ask my wife about it. I mean, I had a dilemma. On the one hand, most folks who read it really loved it. Just as it is, with all its embarrassing mistakes and adverb-laden prose, boring description and dialect-transliteration, the readers I had really seemed to enjoy it. But my writer acquaintances found more than a little fault with it, and I knew in my own heart it needed work. So I queried my first and constant reader, my wife, for help. Which put us, somehow, in a position of not speaking to each other, and no progress was made.
For the next two days, I fought to try and figure out what’s better. My wife felt I should leave this story alone, as it is, and start over, with “Chapter 01: It was a dark and stormy night…” (Not literally, of course, but she seemed to be in favor of a complete rewrite from scratch.) I kept fighting that, because as easy as it is to say “rewrite it,” it’s quite another matter to sit down and start pounding the keyboard until a novel drops out. I guess I can use the analogy of pregnancy, but I don’t know anything about that. I’ll just leave it at easier said than done.
Especially daunting is the idea that I wanted to have a trilogy done by year’s end. HA! I wanted this book and its sequel Witch Hunt (which may not need quite as much help) ready for Halloween, and figured I’d write the third book while these two cooked online (Amazon, Nook, Smashwords, and if you know of any others I don’t, please clue me in; I’m on Kobo too, because they work with Smashwords, and supposedly I’m on Apple, but I have no clue).
That, quite succinctly, ain’t gonna happen.
Then, to make the revelation even more startling, my wife offhandedly points out how we really don’t have a title for this one yet either. I almost fell out of my chair. I completely forgot about that. I can’t call this book Ghost Hunters without inviting a law suit, and despite the fact I didn’t even know a television show existed by that name when I wrote it (I know, living under a rock, what can I say?), the fact remains they had the name first and probably aren’t going to take kindly to me using it.
So, when I summed up this manuscript I found:
- It has no title
- It has little or no story structure
- It has too much chit-chat (any is too much and I have lots)
- It has too much description
- It has scenes started much too late
- It has proper names used in dialog (a huge no-no, apparently)
So, here I am stuck with a “manuscript” (and I use that term loosely) which betrays several of the core competencies a writer should have to be considered a writer.
Therefore, I have some very difficult decisions to make.
- Do I really start over from scratch? Can I do that at this point? If so, there are several things I need to do before I set fingers to keys.
- I need to put together a story architecture map. This is not negotiable. I have to have some direction for the story. I’m not interested in writing six or seven drafts until it comes close to right.
- I need to identify and completely understand the motivations of the characters. I think I’m closer on this than I used to be, but the story must revolve around what the character wants and how he’s going after that, and then shifting those goals as the story moves and the character changes.
- I need to cut the scenes down to the chase. Get to the point, dammit!
- Add some spice – I need more… I dunno. Pizzazz. I want the book to at least be a little creepy if it can’t be scary.
- Put the humor back in. Somehow. Without adding banter and chit-chat. Yeah. Good luck.
- Get it to novel-length and polished to a gleaming shine by Halloween.
Hey, nothin’ to it, right? Piece o’ cake.
For those of you who enjoyed the story as it was (both of you), I can send you an electronic version of it as it is right now. It’s a more-than-rough draft, but you’re welcome to it if you’re interested. The reason I’m offering it is, I won’t be able to retain it this way no matter what. I can abandon the project altogether, which may just be the best idea considering how lame this particular duck is, but one way or another I’m going to be writing a new book instead of this one, unless by some miracle I can think of a way to salvage this one. And no miracles are forthcoming at this point.
So, anyone have any opinions on this? I mean, if you’ve read this far you must have something to say, right? I’m sure no one who’s a “writer” still reads my blog, but all of you are readers of some sort (blogs, tweets, RSS feeds, news, something), right?
Sound off and let me know.