Here’s the situation. My current novel is a completed rough draft. I penned it during NaNoWrimo in November 2012, totally off the cuff. It started from a seemingly innocent personal experience. I took that experience, replaced me and the other person involved with blank characters. I kept the location and its character template. I then asked some questions:
– What sort of person would react like I did?
– Is there an alternative reason for this situation that the reason I was given might mask it?
– Given the disparity between the people-template and my new main character, what circumstances would keep him engaged?
My answers came like explosions, wham, wham, wham. I developed a story and presented it to my writing group.
“Well, that seem sort of goofy.”
“Hmmm, yeah, I suppose it is.”
Question number three, the engagement glue, didn’t work. I came up with a new idea and presented it the next week, the Wednesday before November, crunch time.
“Ah, no, that doesn’t work either.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, we’re sure.”
I realized I also needed an initial reason for him to be there. My protagonist just didn’t belong in the location, and I doubted my whole idea. Looking back, I now realize this is the ideal situation, and the tension I felt translated into tension I wrote. As I began writing, I quickly learned about my character. I quickly discovered his major character flaw that opened several doors. This flaw was not only the engagement glue but also formed the basis of his transformation, of the story. Literary gold! Writing flowed like motor oil out of my 2002 Accord’s leaky oil pan.
My initial idea still held, the masked situation, but I had no conclusion. I worked on the story, his flaw, and realized the symbolism matched perfectly the symbolism of the masked situation. Really? Yes. When I later I added a snippet to scene three, it all came home. Wham!
So I’ve been working on this thing since November. I have about fifty scenes and eighty thousand words. But it feels wrong. It feels like my lawn (an acre plot with gardens, trees, and hills) after my son mows it – patchy, inconsistent, with mangled shrubs and gardens. A big mess. I have been happy with my scene editing. I make three passes on them. After a few days of attention and revisiting, my writing fleshes out. When I read it, I think wow, did I write this? Let’s not kid ourselves though; my first view versions are pretty amateur. My initial writes are pretty meager . My son’s blog puts them to shame. My son’s writing puts most of ours to shame. Too bad he can’t mow like he writes. *Sorry, I’ve lost track of it. I don’t like following my kids online.
I’ve been running into dead ends, not within my scenes but tying my story together. So I’ve been spending time reading up on story. I read stuff, read through my own story board, try to match, get a big headache, and go play a computer game. I did realize I had gaps. I couldn’t articulate them, but I felt them. I had timeline, plot-point, and motivation inconsistencies. This whole narrative arc thing has been an abstract mess. I found myself in bed at night playing through scenes, standing in the shower trying to link the falling drops of water to plot lines, and reading novels and thinking “this person got it, why can’t I?”
During these activities I’ve done other things. I taught a couple of courses for seven weeks as a substitute instructor at the local community college. Out of that I got a Microsoft DreamSpark subscription. Cool. I have installed ultimate versions of Video Studio and SQL Server. Yes, I can code. I’ve been trying c# Winforms and have built some business classes and a database class. I can’t explain it here, but I know loose coupling and interfacing. These are important elements of software architecture, and they relate very much to novel arc or story architecture. I am finding my ability to sort out my story arc improving. Then a few days ago I watched a cool video on the Hero’s Journey. Not only did it help clarify Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, but I learned that screenwriters purposely write the key scenes first then fill in the blanks. It’s very much how I’ve been coding – code the key elements first [with tight coupling] then fill in the interfacing later [abstract, loose coupling]. Wham!
I tried it with my already written scenes, and it didn’t work. What? I must really have a mess here. I decided to approach the problem from a linear perspective. I sat down and went through each step of the hero’s journey and wrote how I accomplished each. I also wrote the gaps, either the missing scenes or linkages to tie the journey (story) together. It worked. Wham! I discovered that my story pretty much covers the whole hero’s journey arc with some exceptions. I summarized and jotted down four scenes I need to write and five elements I need to tie down. I also have a timeline issue I need to unravel, and that may have to wait until a more macro-level edit.
So that’s where I am. I have a clear plan of action:
– four new scenes
– five tie-downs
– a complete read-through and copy-edit with some attention to time-line
I want to complete these four objectives by August 24th. That’s beach party weekend, and I’d love to bring a readable manuscript to share with a couple of people. I won’t likely share it there, not during party time. It is a time to celebrate long friendships, and I want to be fully engaged, not struggling with any balls and chains. It will be a mind-freeing weekend, so I better get it done by then. I may not have much of a mind left afterwards.