Saturday, 26 November 2011

What Was I Thinking?

As I pointed out to an author friend recently when she asked how my writing was going: 'How can I concentrate on the 17th century when the 21st is riding my butt so hard?'

I couldn't abandon the 17th Century that easily, however, so instead of tackling a new wip, I have recently re-visited a manuscript that's been sitting on my hard drive for at least three years. I did what all the good author sites tell you -  Read It As If You Didn't Write It - Suffice it to say, I gave myself an unpleasant shock!

From a reader's viewpoint, the story is still engaging, [Hopefully] as are the characters, [even more hopefully] but my style strikes me as simplistic and naive. By that, I mean everyone's speech reflects their actions, the story moves from A to B with no sidetracking to F or G, and the villain is a villain from the outset.

It's not grammatically incorrect, or even clumsily written, but all those extra details I imagined weren't needed are missing - like describing all my heroine's inner thoughts to the very last choked gasp when she is facing a situation which terrifies her?  I assumed a reader would work that out for themselves.

I was wrong about that. For a reader to empathise with a character requires introspection on that character's part. It occurred to me that some people react differently in certain situations, and in an attempt to make my heroine stand out more, and live longer in my readers' minds, unpredictability can be an asset.

To make the novel into a better, deeper read where the characters themselves have more dimension than previously, I inserted reactions in some places which are contrary to the norm. For instance, fear reacted to by anger, violent defence and a sharp tongue instead of heart-thumping withdrawal.

However, the thought keeps intruding that maybe I'm kidding myself and I should leave well alone? That by these changes I am destroying a perfectly good story. Then I go over a re-written chapter and am convinced it really does sound much better. There is also the undeniable fact I have learned more in the last three years, specifically about cause and effect [thank you Ginger] showing not telling, making dialogue serve a purpose as opposed to being lighthearted chat which goes nowhere, and removing as many dialogue tags as possible.

My pace and story arc could use some work though - so this re-visiting an old file is proving to be fascinating, as most of the hard slog and 'what do the characters do now' work has been done already. I know how it ends, but I can make that ending more deserved, more emotional and maybe my readers will close the back cover with a sigh of satisfaction rather than reaching for the next book in the to-read pile.

An author can only hope.


Jen Black said...

Sounds like ideal material for the crit group, Anita!

Anita Davison said...

Thank you, Jen - however this one has already been through the group - and I would hate to be boring!!!

Ginger Simpson said...

I totally disagree with your perception of your writing skills. Speaking only as a "reader" here, I have to say that you drew me into a genre I hesitated (make that cringed) to read, made me love your characters, and created a hunger for more 17th century which I was quite sure I'd hate. If you can convert me, then I can only imagine that those who are fans of your genre, as I am now, will snap it up in an instant once they savor your style.

If you feel your writing isn't up to snuff for English publishers, then they need to get the stick out of their butts and recognize talent when they see it.

I cannot think of anything missing from your books. I don't often mention favorite authors because I have quite a few, but when I do, your name always tops the list. I've not yet met a book of yours that I didn't adore...and I'm a die-hard western era person. So there, Anita Davison...put aside the doubts and get those books out there so people can appreciate them.

Lisa Yarde said...

A change just for change's sake won't do you or the story any good - if you feel it stands on its own merits, Anita, don't change a word.

Anita Davison said...

I hear you, Lisa, but seriously,I know more about 'tight writing' than I did when I wrote this, and the changes will be minor, but effective - promise!

N. Gemini Sasson said...

Time gives us so much perspective, doesn't it? If I could, I'd put every story away for a year, or more, and let it roast. I say trust your gut, Anita. Maybe you needed this time away from it to add that next layer and give it the depth it needed to really come to life.

Adriana Ryan said...

I love this: "To make the novel into a better, deeper read where the characters themselves have more dimension than previously, I inserted reactions in some places which are contrary to the norm. For instance, fear reacted to by anger, violent defence and a sharp tongue instead of heart-thumping withdrawal."

I think that's exactly what sets a good novel apart from a great one - that unexpected foray into the psychological depths of people. I'm going to look for this in my WIP too. Thanks for the tip! :)

BTW, I have a novel in my drawer that I wrote about 2 years ago and it is a huuuuge mess. I still love the story, but it has about a million subplots and will need some serious reworking. I'm getting closer to wanting to work on it, but I'm not there yet. Kudos to you on your bravery! :)

Alison Stuart said...

Someone (a well published writer) said he didn't start to learn about writing until his fourth published book!

As writers we do need to stand back and critically evaluate what we write and find that balance between the art of the story and the craft.

I recently went through a similar exercise with one of my cyber sock drawer English Civil War stories. I so wanted to resurrect it, but on reflection there is a good reason it is in the sock drawer. I did a lot of learning as I wrote it and when I bravely queried HMB (what WAS I thinking???), they wrote back (very kindly) "too many people have to die before the end of the book"!