I mentioned in my previous blog post that my novel-in-progress, The Wildfire Crown, ran into some problems during the holiday. I was on my second draft, nearing the three quarters mark or so, and things were feeling pretty good. The first half was in solid shape, I knew approximately how my climactic sequence worked,, so all I had to link the two. I even had that section outlined, having run into problems with it before.
Except, I had trouble with a scene. It started out small – the scene didn’t “quite” work. I had trouble putting my finger on why. I started to investigate, and decided it was because an important secondary character’s motivations weren’t properly defined. I set to work on that – and discovered they weren’t defined, because they didn’t quite make sense.
No problem – I just had to adjust them. I found an adjustment. But then when checked to see how that change affected the rest of the story, it turned out my adjustment made another characters previously-reasonable motivation turn bad. Okay fine – change that, only that screwed up a third thing.
It was a lot like watching dominoes tip over and fall on one another.
Essentially, I had seven or eight important elements to the story that all made sense on their own, and generally all made sense when considered as pairs, but the intersection of al of them together was not quite working.
I had no idea what to do. I searched for the “minimal changes” necessary to fix everything, but then I started thinking, maybe there was no minimal change. Maybe it was flawed from the start.
Maybe I had to start over from scratch.
It was like watching this carefully built house of cards, each piece painstakingly placed over a period of many months, slowly but inexorably collapse under it’s own weight.
These things happen – just because you spend a lot of time working on a story, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work out. And frankly, it’s way better to find these things out at this stage then, say, after putting it out on Amazon. But that doesn’t make it any less depressing.
The good news is – after 3 weeks of agonizing, I did find hope. I didn’t need to start over. The key was to realize that some parts of the story I’d declared as “working”, in fact, needed work. Specifically in the “first half” that I thought was solid. It didn’t need a complete overhaul – I think I can fix it by adding a couple chapters at the very start. Even better, I found the key part of my solution in the rules of the world I’d already built – I’d simply overlooked it before. That was a cool moment, and gave me confidence that even if the novel isn’t done, the structure is still there.
I did have to dump everything I’d written in the second half and start again, but It’s going well. I realize, the more I do this, that I need to spend more time being an architect. Sometimes I try to improv a few to many scenes and I end up stringing things together that don’t quite work. What I’m going to do, going forward, is make sure that for each scene, I know how it starts, how it ends, what the main characters goal is, and what the conflicts are. I think if I have those well established, then I’ll know if the scene “works” without having to know all the details of the implementation. That will also make it easier for me to skip writing scenes I’m not totally sure how to implement.
Anyway – this is all still happening, hence the somewhat vague language. Once the story is complete, I plan on doing a more detailed analysis on what went wrong, why it went wrong, and how I fixed it.
As painful as this whole episode was, I think it ended up being immensely educational, and served as a good reminder how hard writing is and how much I have yet to learn. What I tried to keep in mind every day was this – the only way you really fail at writing, is if you stop.
And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a mere plot-cataclysm stop me 🙂
I’m off to Paris with my friend Sean tomorrow – I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done, and will be sure to blog about the trip when I get back. Until then, please enjoy this (surprisingly) touching piece by Macklemore x Ryan Lewis: