Waiting for "The Call"

“Honey, it’s always crap. Every book I write is crap. It’s my job to fix the crap afterwards,” according to Nora Roberts. Well, I've got it half right. Still working on the "fixing it" part. "Trust your characters to be complex enough and to have enough emotional baggage. Force them to make hard choices." Advice from Michelle Styles that might help!

Jumping in with both feet July 4, 2009

Filed under: Writing and Life — Autumn Macarthur @ 2:55 pm
Tags: , ,

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Arrgghh! I had a beautifully crafted post all ready to publish, went to add a link, the screen locked up, and I lost the whole flipping thing! Much swearing ensued! I was tempted to just forget it, and get on with the editing I am supposed to be doing, but I’m so frustrated that I’m determined to make this bloody blog say what I want.

Also, the whole point of the blog post that got eaten by some malevolent WordPress demon was how I’ve been putting off editing Luk and Emma’s story. So what better way to procrastinate than blogging about procrastinating! And even better, when the post was almost done and I had no excuses, I lost the post! Just have to take the time to do it again, don’t it? Almost makes me think I’m meant to be procrastinating…

Um, that would be a no!

 

I haven’t been near the story since last weekend, when I had fun playing around with chapter one, making some tweaks. All very nice and necessary, but this is meant to be the structural pass through. The slash and burn, cut out everything that doesn’t move the story further pass. Not the “let’s change this one word here and see if it sounds prettier” pass. Not even the “add a physical beat there and Luk needs to show his frustration more there” pass. This first edit is the “It it doesn’t work, eliminate it” pass. The one where I need to approach my writing with the attutude of a Dalek on steroids.

Somehow, I’m getting the idea that I’m resisting “killing my darlings”, as the ever fabulous Julie Cohen put it in her Ten Commandments. I ought to be chopping out all the lines and scenes and characters I adore but that just aren’t doing enough for the story to justify keeping them, but I don’t want to. Right now, my first draft looks like some sort of rest home for redundant characters and intrusive plot devices!

I wasted a lot of time and a lot of false starts when I tried writing this story with just the idea of who the characters were and what the inciting event was, and a couple of ideas of things I wanted to have happen because I thought they’d be fun to write.  I think I wrote at least three beginnings, totalling about 25,000 words, before I gave up knowing it wasn’t going to work that way. I took two weeks out to go back to basics, plan the story from the beginning, start with the characters, so that hopefully my plot would flow out of knowing my characters well, having good motivations, relationship blocks, and conflict. Good theory, not quite so good in reality.

Good because at least I did get the first draft finished, and sometimes I got it right, I think. Not so good because sometimes I got it spectacularly wrong. There were places I thought I needed a particular something to move the plot in a specific direction, but it could be done in a much simpler way. Or there was some plot element that I really, really, really, wanted to have in the story, so I twisted the story to make it fit.

For Luk and Emma it was a kidnap. All along I wanted bad guys to kidnap the heroine, and for the hero to rescue her in some dramatic way, galloping in on horseback or sweeping in by helicopter. In fact I started off with this image in my mind then tried to make a story around it. That chapter was the most fun to write! My writing group loved the bits of it I gave them to read. It’s a great scene.

Unfortunately, it is a scene that is totally wrong for this story.  No matter how much fun it is, it kept the hero and heroine apart for two chapters and slowed things down. Also, though I thought the plot needed it as I had to find a way to get Luk and Emma alone together, I realised I’d already written a far more plausible and straightforward reason in an earlier scene. I can’t remember where I read this (maybe Bird by Bird- thanks for reminding me to buy it, Eileen!), but it was saying something like-  if you can cut the scene without it affecting the reader’s understanding of the story, it has to go.

So the kidnap and rescue has to go. A lot of the big set piece scenes like the ball, the coronation, and the wedding need heavy pruning. Most if not all of Luk’s family need to go. I gave him a big happy family with lots of sisters, but a man like Luk does not come from a big happy family. If he did, he couldn’t possibly be who he is. They all have to go. I especially liked his bossy older sister, but is she necessary to the story? Probably not. And I’m not quite sure Alpha males have bossy elder sisters. Weak and dependent or wayward and wilful younger ones, yes. Managing and mothering older ones- hmm?

Looking back at what I’ve learned from the first draft, I thinking the biggest lesson is to stay true to the characters. Don’t make them do things because I think the plot requires it, or because there’s a particular scene I particularly want to write. In a very real way, it’s their story, not mine. I might think I’m God and can pull the strings in their little world, but actually, it doesn’t work like that. There are immutable laws at work. Things like internal consistency, believable motivation, having the characters drive the story.

So all those yummy things that are in there only because I wanted them, not because my characters needed them, have to go. And I’m frightened of starting the process, worried that my 60,000 word first draft will end up as a 20,000 word skeleton when I’ve cut all the stuff that doesn’t need to be there.

But it’s starting to make sense that maybe that is just what I need. The good solid bones I can then put flesh on. Less of Luk’s sisters, equals more of the delectable Luk. Cutting out the kidnap makes room for layering in more sensuality and sexual tension in the scenes before and after it.

The chopped scenes won’t go to waste, either. I’m not sure they can be recycled into another story, but Julie gave me some advice on her blog that I really should print out and stick to my screen while I edit-

the sad truth is, that if you suspect it has to go, it probably does. Don’t lose it, though—keep a cutting file for everything you’ve chopped. If nothing else, you can have a “deleted scenes” section on your website for fans, once the book is published!

I’ll be grinning so much at that idea, I won’t even feel the pain of amputating those scenes and characters! Plus, I know I will need that freed up word count that I’ll gain from cutting all the dead wood away.

I guess there are two strands to editing, aren’t there? One is knowing what to cut out, the other is knowing what needs adding in. I already know this story needs more physicality and sensuality written in. More zing. The conflict between Luk and Emma needs deepening. It’s better than it was in my original idea, but still not enough. They aren’t each other’s worst nightmare  yet, the very last person on the planet they would fall in love with. Luk’s motivation for leaving Emma is better than it was, but it still isn’t strong enough. I need to show all the reasons these two would NOT want to be together, and the things that irresistably draw them back together, much more strongly. Deepen the emotion, ‘cos that’s what it’s all about.

Okay. Bring on the hack and burn. I feel much better about jumping in with both feet and going for it now. Maybe that post crashed for a good reason. I hadn’t come to this point then- I was still stuck in procrastination. Now I have no excuses!

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4 Responses to “Jumping in with both feet”

  1. Eileen Says:

    I’m so excited to hear how well things are coming along — and procrastination or no, they are coming along.

    “Right now, my first draft looks like some sort of rest home for redundant characters and intrusive plot devices!” <<< oh that made me laugh!!! I'll now thing of cutting stuff that doesn't work as "placing it in a home" hehe

    Re: alpha males and older sisters. I think if he had several (maybe 3) bossy older sisters who liked to work as a group to micromanage his life then that might work ofr an Alpha hero b/c it would give him something to rebel against; as a child he would have always been trying to avoid their schemes and he would have had to have become strong willed and independent in order not to become a hen-pecked adolescent –LOL! — but at the same time it would have instilled in him that there are certain ways to "treat a lady."

    Don't worry about cutting: bare bones is really what a series romance needs!

    Although I feel your pain of cutting out the cool kidnapping scenes. In the short story CAKE that you read I had to cut 300 words (which is a lot when the story is only 3500) of this really elaborate imagining she had about how people's bodies are made of punctuation marks. Man it was cool, but it just didn't do anything for the story.

    Side note: I'm opening my latest novel with a kidnapping 😉

  2. waitingforthecall Says:

    Soory about the problem you had posting! For some reason, the overactive spam filter decided to send your post to Suspected Spam LImbo.
    Actually, you got it straight away how the older sister thing worked! That is so exactly it- he had to become Alpha in self-defence. If I was writing the story as a single title, they would have to stay in. But when I was half way through this draft, I decided it wasn’t working as it was for Modern Heat, and I changed the hero a bit, gave him different motivations. The sisters just don’t fit any more, just like the kidnap.

    I woke up this morning and first thought into my mind was another secondary character that has to go too, Alice, the feisty old woman Emma cares for. She’s there in chapter 1, but doesn’t have any more role to play, so she is out too. *sigh*

    It really hurt yesterday cutting that kidnap and rescue scene! My plan now, just for fun and my own development as a writer, is that I’m going to write it both ways. First as a category romance aimed at Presents/ Modern Heat, then as a single title aimed at Little Black Dress. I can see which one feels best for me, which I enjoy writing most, which one my voice is best suited for.

    I think I already know, but it will be fun finding out. I don’t want the goal of publication to sidetrack me and to lose something more important in focusing on that.

    Hey, I love the idea of starting with a kidnapping! Is this a paranormal?

  3. Eileen Says:

    Cutting the sisters: I now understand why so often in series romances there’s suddenly a sibling or parent or something that sort of pops in and we’re supposed to believe that this person is an intricate part of the hero(ine)’s life: because the author had to cut out everything about them before!

    Starting with a kidnapping: it’s a straight up epic fantasy set in its own pseudo-medieval world. Although now that you mention it, starting a paranormal with a kid napping would be really fun. Snatched by a pack of rogue werewolves to be their Alpha’s bride, or some such!

  4. Julie Cohen Says:

    Good luck with the cutting! It’s painful, but it can be quite liberating as well.


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