The edits for ‘Tider’ are ongoing. I now look like this:
I am currently on my fourth careful re-read of the manuscript, and – horrifyingly – I am still finding plot holes, problems, inconsistencies and stupid errors. Taken all together, they are making me doubt my own sanity, ability to write, suitability to use a computer and, in short, my claim to be a productive and useful member of society.
(On this point: when writing a book, it’s always good to begin it from a place of total equilibrium in your mental and physical health. By the time you’ve finished, you won’t be quite as self-actualised as you were when you started, but that’s all right.)
One thing I have definitely learned from this week’s writing has been: Never throw anything away. When you’re editing, and hacking great lumps of text out of your book, it’s important not to fling the scraps into the oubliette of the Recycling Bin. Certainly, it’s vital never to delete anything completely. You really never know when you might need it again. As an example, let me tell you about a scene I wrote several months ago, where my heroine breaks into her best friend’s house in the middle of the night to beg him for his help and ends up having to escape through the bathroom window when his mother wakes up; it was fun, but it didn’t fit with a later edit. To replace it, I put in an emotionally wrenching scene where the heroine’s best friend comes across her in their secret hideout, and offers his help when he sees her in distress – it seemed to suit better, and it certainly fit more snugly with the plot as I’d written it in that particular draft.
Alas, no longer.
Now, I’m changing stuff around again. I’ve noticed myself doing what I always do with my protagonists – making them too safe, and not putting them in enough danger – and that has to be remedied before I go any further with the current draft. My heroine will no longer be discovered, weeping, by a boy; she will be the agent of her own fate, and the original scene will be restored – with extra, added kick-punchery for good measure. So, I spent several minutes yesterday being extremely glad that I have a file labelled ‘Offcuts’ where I put everything I cut from my earlier drafts, and which I can use to restore the book to its former glory without raising my blood pressure too much.
It’s good to be aware of your mistakes, and of the things you tend to do which stymie the development of your book and your characters. For me, one of these things is that I keep my protagonists too safe. It’s always good to put them through the wringer, and make them suffer; it sounds cruel, but it’s not. If a protagonist is struggling, a reader will engage with them more strongly. People are inclined to support the underdog, I guess. If everything comes too easily to your heroine, then it’s going to induce a reader to start rolling their eyes in bored disbelief, until eventually they put your book to one side and start reading something else instead. Who wants to read a story where everything happens to the protagonist? You want to write a story where the protagonist happens to the plot, not the other way round.
So, because of this, my heroine will be doing no more anguished weeping in a darkened corner. She’ll be busting her way out of places, busting her way into other places, and making stuff happen.
I’m also working through my foreshadowing at the moment – or, in other words, the ‘hint dropping’ that occurs throughout the text, preparing the reader for the end of the book. It’s important to do this right, with a light touch that isn’t overdoing the exposition; however, you don’t want to leave too much in the dark, either, and it’s always good to nudge the reader very gently toward some of the good stuff that’s coming up in the next chapter, or ten chapters away. I’m finding this difficult, I have to admit. One thing is for sure, though – I wouldn’t have a chance of being able to do it without having a completed draft to hand. You need to have a clear idea of your entire story arc before you can start flagging hidden details to a reader.
Pacing is also a problem for me in writing a novel – the current draft of ‘Tider’ has a lot happening to the protagonist in the last five or ten pages, and I want to change that before I consider that book ‘finished’. Foreshadowing will help this, as will allowing my heroine enough brains and chutzpah to start putting things together herself, making educated and intelligent guesses which lead her to important conclusions – then, they won’t all have to be explained to her at the end.
Wow. Writing this post has really made me see how much work I still need to do.
Writing a book is hard. Being aware of your pitfalls is a good way to start fixing them, but it’s only half the battle. I’m sure there are mistakes I won’t see, but I’m going to do my best to spot and destroy as many of them as I can while I have the chance.
Wish me luck!