I am writing a novel.
These five words have become my mantra, something I repeat silently to convince myself it is real. Not a dream, not a figment of my imagination. Not something I began and never finished.
This time I am getting ‘er done.
By putting it out there I am also making myself accountable. When “How is the book coming along?” is asked I don’t have to flounder around for a lame excuse.
It’s coming. I’m getting there. It’s moving forward.
“So after the second draft,” a friend asked me the other day, “your book is pretty much done, right?”
If only. But not by a long shot.
Get me rewrite.
Last fall I attended BinderCon, a writing conference for women. Among the many valuable sessions was a panel of four freelance editors, each of whom had worked in publishing for years. I was impressed with their knowledge and approach to helping writers make their book the best it can be. So after the conference I contacted one of them and I am working with her now.
I submitted my second draft to her and waited anxiously for feedback. Would she love it? Hate it? Biting fingernails, chewing the inside of my mouth, binge snacking: I engaged in every nervous habit I could think of.
Well, we had a phone call last week to discuss the book. There was good news and bad news.
Good news: she liked the story, thought the characters were well drawn, enjoyed the historical setting of the novel, and thought it would ultimately fare well with readers.
Bad news: a major rewrite is necessary.
Good news again: The rewrite is going to make it SO much better.
Before this feedback, I was having trouble seeing the forest for the trees. I was too close to the content. It was impossible for me to be objective.
With a few brushstrokes of her vision, she gave me clarity that I was unable to find on my own. As I rewrite the second draft, I will:
- Take a swipe at the number of characters. There were too many. “Beyond four or five major characters,” the editor told me, “people start getting confused. And it is really hard to make their voices unique.”
- Narrow the time frame. The expanse was too wide, too Belva Plain. Instead of 50 or so years, now it will be five. And that’s enough.
- Focus on the motivations of the characters. This has to be credible.
- Intensify the drama. Make the precipice higher. This will make the reader want to keep turning the pages.
- Be careful with the historical events. This is not a history lesson. Make the events part of the narrative but only in the context of their impact on the characters.
- In each chapter, define where we are in time, what is going on with the family, and what significant event takes place that propels the story forward
These simple suggestions will eliminate many of the problems I had with the plot line and the development of the main characters. Instead of feeling angst, I feel a huge sense of relief – and excitement.
I will be deleting a huge chunk of my work, maybe even 50%. Perhaps some of it will return in another novel another time. A sequel, perhaps. Doesn’t that sound nice?