How Far Will You Go?

Last week, an acquaintance of mine challenged me and I couldn’t refuse.  It was what I needed.  My ability to move this third book along, as in adding at least 1,000 words per day has been nothing short of a daunting task.   I can’t seem to quit spinning in circles over the first 35 pages, reworking the beginning sentence ad nauseum along with every other word.

It’s all about getting the story down, and then going back to edit/revise, but you can’t do that until you know the story you’re trying to write.  And, my brain seemed to have stalled somewhere at the beginning.  Therefore, when she said, “you write, I’ll paint, and lets see where we are at the end of the week,” it was exactly what I needed.  Accountability to SOMEONE with just a little push to it.   I said, “you’re on!” and off we went.  But, in a strange twist, this challenge ended up giving me something unexpected and it had nothing to do with increasing word count, but rather just the opposite.

I didn’t write 1,000 wpd, but I did come close.  By the end of the week, I was quite satisfied to have added 3,500, and my word count had crept up from 7,500 to just over 11,000.  It felt good to look down to see that I’d surpassed a goal that seemed like it would never come – that first 10,000 words.

Like many writers, once something is down on “paper,” I have to step back from it and, well, I stew.  I’m really good at that, the old stewing thing.  It comes with the muttering, and mumbling, the drifting around in the house, the absent minded stare at the dinner table.  When I came back to my desk, I decided to further distract myself by reading. Funny how everything I chose (like karma) focused on the things to either, 1) get the start of the story right, or 2) dig yourself out of the hole you’ve written yourself into.  Hm.

Writer’s Digest (magazine and online site) just so happened to have a great article, called “How To Start A Novel Right, 5 Great Tips.  I read that.

If you don’t have access to the above link, the main thrust of the message was this:

1) Create a Doorway of No Return for your protagonist before the 1/5 mark of your book 

So, if my book was going to be 400 pages, by page 80, I needed have my protagonist in some dire situation she couldn’t avoid.  Great, I had that part nailed.

2) To deepen your descriptions, add character-defining sensory details.  (the example they gave was to not just say “she wore Chanel No. 5 perfume,” but to say, “She was wearing Chanel No. 5, like in the old days, he noticed—that sophisticated, mind-coat-and-diamonds fragrance that always quickened his pulse.)

I do pretty good at that – I think.

3)  Make secondary characters significant.  

Yep, got the neighbor involved – even if only to get her to the “Doorway of No Return.”

4) Instead of “write what you know,” try writing what you feel

I always go back and work on this in a more focused manner once I have the full draft in place.

5) At the beginning of your story, include minimal backstory. 

Big fat OOPS.

You’d think by now I would learn.  As soon as I read that, I sat back and I knew, damn it I knew it, this was the problem.  So, I went back and read what I had, and sure enough, I was drowning the thing in backstory.  Then, I tended to get into trouble trying to re-write the backstory so it didn’t seem like backstory.  I fluffed it, plumped it, tried to make it oh so important, the reader must know this kind of thing, thing.  I tried fancy words.  I tried to twist the sentences around to the point I literally obliterated my original meaning, while sinking (SINKING!) the story further into the sewer because now, I can’t even figure out what I was trying to say in the first place through all the crazy details.

What to do, what to do?  Well,  CUT IT OUT.  And, that’s exactly what I did.  I effectively removed bout 2,000 words, knocking my WIP down to just over 9,000 and virtually landing myself almost to where I’d been at the onset of said “challenge.”

But, you know what?  It actually reads better already.  I’ve reworked the first chapter, worked on the “inciting incident” and then, in Chapter Two?  I’m shoving (SHOVING!) my character into a virtual hell.  I don’t even know if that 2,000 words I wrote with all of that great flavorful description of the drab house like a gray winter sky even matters.  Yeah, it was descriptive, but 10 pages of that kind of sh– won’t hold the attention of a publishing editor for long.

So, I gotta ask, when your story is stagnating, how far will you go to get it right?



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