…and I feel (largely) fine!
This is despite the fact that – of course – my hubris has caught up with me again.
I was supposed to start the querying process by the end of this week. You might remember I said so, in black and white, right here on this very blog. Putting things in writing here is sort of like creating a contract with myself, a means of shaming myself into doing stuff in a timely fashion. If I write it here, I have to follow through with it.
It works well, a lot of the time.
Not, however, when the book I want to query is undercooked, as ‘Eldritch’ definitely was – and, perhaps, still is. Although, I really hope not.
I’ve spent this week working through the book again, reading carefully, editing (6, 500 words fell beneath my ruthless blade!), fixing problems, keeping an eye out for things like ‘jumpy’ scenes – in other words, when reading something makes you feel like you’re listening to a CD skipping* – and something I tend to do a lot, I’ve noticed: writing unrealistic reactions.
What I mean by ‘writing unrealistic reactions’, of course, is having a character go completely nuts with rage when it’s, actually, a vast overreaction to the situation at that time, or say something which is logically unconnected to what’s gone before, or seem too calm when another character drops a bombshell of bad news on their head, or whatever it might be. I can’t really explain why I did this so often during the course of the book, particularly near the end, without even realising it; on this, most recent read-through, all these ‘clanging’ moments jumped out at me like samba dancers wearing neon headdresses, but up to this point I’d entirely missed them.
I think, somehow, it might go back to an age-old conflict in the world of fiction-writing: plot vs. character.
I’ve a feeling what happened was this, or something like it. On the first few drafts, I was too busy getting the plot of ‘Eldritch’ out onto the page, unravelled, exposed, explained, resolved and told to focus sufficiently on keeping my characters consistent. This, of course, is a silly, silly thing to do. A book should rest on the shoulders of its characters. They should drive it, they should shape and mould it, their reactions should be true to their personalities (because, yes, even fictional people have personalities!); in short, a collection of things happening is a story; characters living through that story makes a plot. But, at all times, a writer must be mindful that their characters are the focus. People don’t (generally) act wildly ‘out of character’, unless they have an excellent reason – so, why would it be different for a fictional person?
If this is forgotten, what we have are wooden-seeming characters, who move about jerkily like Thunderbird puppets, waiting for a string to be pulled before they can take any action. If we have prioritised story over character, then it’s natural that reactions will be unbelievable and ‘unreal’, unnatural, and clunky. And, of course, this is not something which will go unnoticed by a reader. It will scream out from the page, and make a reader very unhappy indeed, and may even lead to them (gasp) not finishing the book. That, of course, is a nightmare scenario. I know, as a reader myself, that what I look for in a story more than anything else is characters so real I feel I can reach into my book and touch them, characters with whom I can imagine having a conversation (or a beer, depending on the book), characters who are fully rounded, fully realised and true to themselves, and who act at all times in accordance with their personalities and the circumstances in which they find themselves. So, it upsets me that as a writer, I should fall into the trap of prioritising plot over people.
The only good thing in this situation is, of course, that I’ve spotted my mistakes now, and not three weeks after I’d started querying the manuscript. I also know that the draft of ‘Eldritch’ currently saved on my various computer files and disks is a better version of the book than that which existed two weeks, even one week, ago; after it’s settled for a few days in my mind, I’ll go back to it again and make sure it still holds water. It’s by no means a perfect book, but I dare to hope it’s reasonably good. In its own small way.
And then. And then it’ll be time to send it away into the big bad world. I hope it doesn’t come back until it’s encased within covers.
*I’ve just realised how many people reading this will now be thinking ‘What an old-fashioned fuddy duddy stick in the mud! CDs? I don’t even know what they are anymore.’ Well, sorry about that. I’m a troglodyte.