Monday, August 19, 2013

Unraveling the Yarn

So my stale manuscript (see Knit One, Purl Two…Rip it Apart) has been out of the drawer and warming in the light of day for a couple weeks now, and I’ve found myself with more energy and enthusiasm for a project than I’ve felt for a good while.  There’s some pretty good writing in this thing, woohoo!  Okay, and I’ve also found a few more darlings and dispatched them heartlessly.

My first real steps in the process were to read the old synopsis and the chapter outline of the novel, making a few notes on areas that seemed to be more sideways motion than forward action.  I then dug into my “manifesto,” a somewhat random compilation of notes and ideas and sketches one of my former grad program mentors, Melissa Pritchard, had encouraged me to write to serve as a holding area of thoughts and debates on the project.  That was well before the days of Scrivener, of course, but that's another post or two.  Over the years, I’ve added to my manifesto by entering new elements, bullet point fashion, at the top of the first page rather than at the end, so my latest ideas and critiques and notes are the first thing I see. 

My goal with the reading of the synopsis and outline was to see how the project fit, structurally, within the guidelines of Larry Brooks’s excellent book Story Engineering, since the majority of the feedback on why the novel didn’t work had to do with a lack of consistent forward direction and increasing overall tension.  It turned out that, in an overall sense, I had my plot points and pinch points in about the right spots, so it seemed I needed to dig deeper to see why the novel still wasn't working.  And, after a few productive sessions of staring off into space and simply trying to BE in the story, I discovered some new, tighter, more dramatic plot elements and characterization that still maintained much of the existing action.  Perfect!

I’d already done some revision a few years back, to add a twist at the end of the first section—the part Brooks calls THE SETUP—to make my First Plot Point less expected and more engaging, and to draw the protagonist and the reader forward more strongly.  But I had run out of steam and jumped into another project, so I drawered the novel again.  As I came back to the project a couple weeks ago, I had assumed the second part—Brooks’s THE RESPONSE—would be the one where things fell apart, and I dreaded having to deal with that. 

So I began reading the manuscript, striking darlings and compressing here and there, plus adding some foreshadowing and adjusting for changes in characterization and the plot tightening I had planned.  Productive work!  Then I came to part two, Brooks’s Response, where the protagonist becomes a Wanderer, reacting to the impact of the First Plot Point, still in denial and questioning, seeking and avoiding.  And, lo and behold, my Wanderer was doing a pretty good job of wandering, with scenes full of increasing tension and despair, not to mention getting squeezed uncomfortably at Brooks’s First Pinch Point.  Again, I made some adjustments, some fine-tuning, and massaged her character to bring out some new elements and refinements.  Plus, compression is always a good thing.  Even the Brooks Midpoint seemed solid.

I was feeling proud of myself—this wasn’t so bad, after all, and it was going so smoothly!

Then I dug into the next section of the novel, Brooks’s Part Three, THE ATTACK, where the protagonist shifts from Wanderer to Warrior, and half way through it I realized I’d lost my bearings.  While the protagonist had, in her own way, made the shift to warrior, I had introduced too many new characters and branching, dead end plot stubs, and even had one chapter where another pov character watched the protagonist doing what I’d just shown in the previous chapter!  Worse yet, I was letting the air out of the tension balloon instead of filling it to the bursting point.  


Well then.  So now the truly challenging work begins, the complete redesign and rewriting of several chapters!  Now, where in Hades are those frisky little muses when you need them?

1 comment:

  1. I commend you for not giving up on this project. It was a well-written piece of work, but did lack action at specific points along the way. I also remember certain characters not commanding a "presence" deserving of their standing in the story. For any readers out there following us and struggling with putting together plot points or is just beginning a novel at all, we highly recommend the book Story Engineering. It really is a great reference book for all writers. Good Luck David and I look forward to seeing it again in the workshop group.