An exact reenactment of my latest adventure in Revising My Novel. Fun times.
Honestly though it’s actually going great. The frustrating parts are just your run-of-the-mill ‘I wish this was better’ stuff, and the good parts make me look forward to the next set of revisions. Stuff actually starts happening at one point, even. I hear stories do that occasionally.
I don’t know sometimes if it’s the amount of YA that I’ve been reading lately or what, but it’s almost like I’ve forgotten what a well-crafted story reads like, and specifically what tight, crisp pacing reads like. I’m so used to the indulgences of the author, side-tracking and digressions all throughout the course of a book, that maybe I’ve built up a tolerance for it without realising it. It’s not a tolerance I want to have. Maybe it’s just a tolerance to my own writing, considering that I’ve been working with more or less the same manuscript for a full year now.
And I am a little less frustrated with my lack of speed. I mean I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, so stop-starting and stalling is probably totally reasonable for me to be experiencing as I teach myself the ropes by climbing them, without supervision. Just some YouTube tutorials and an article I read on Buzzfeed.
I wonder how long it’ll take for that joke to become dated …
But I am now convinced that these character-arc maps were the right idea, because they’re getting me to ask questions of the fundamental structure of this story and see things I hadn’t seen before simply as a result of the zoomed-in nature of this exercise. I’m reading the continuity all wrong for the story as a whole, but that narrow focus on each character’s arc really highlights where the continuity falls apart and the pacing screeches to a halt.
With this particular character’s arc I’m looking at currently, I only noticed that the pacing had screeched to a halt because it began, and then abruptly died back down, and then I realised that everything up to that point had felt pretty flat. Well, not everything, but you get the picture. Not only did it die back down, but the point at which it picked up and started to feel like it was finally going somewhere was like two-thirds of the way through the arc. It’s also pointed out to me that one of the huge fundamental changes I thought I’d made to this particular arc didn’t actually take root like I thought it had, and it suffers from what is essentially the exact same issue as it did before the revision. Which is good to know. And while shoddy continuity due to my lazily splicing together new and old writing is certainly a factor there, because of the pacing and placing of events in this arc even good continuity editing wouldn’t help it. And this is not something I may have noticed if I’d just been reading the manuscript normally, and had the rest of the story to camouflage this and other glaring flaws.
It’s also my solution – without realising it until now – for getting a new perspective on my work so that it doesn’t feel stale, which is one of the classic pitfalls aspiring writers are told to be prepared for because there’s really very little you can do to avoid it. So, for future reference: one way to keep things feeling fresh is to change the focus of your reading, when you go back over your own work. Character-maps are a pretty fantastic solution, because not only do they force you to see your story in a very different light but it also draws attention to details specific to each arc that you might otherwise miss when reading the story as a whole.
I’m also liking the new ideas I’m coming up with, stirred up by the energy going into this work: solutions to issues that change fundamental things about the story that might actually be fantastic ideas, and for now that’s all they need to be – fantastic ideas. I’m enjoying how generative this process is proving to be, letting my imagination run away a bit, and knowing that none of this has to stick. Not to shoot these ideas down prematurely, though. It may well turn out that I’ve given myself a panacea. Only time will tell. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the spontaneity. It’s kind of like writer fireworks. You don’t even need a permit for them.
The one actual regret that I have is not going back and looking over the notes I spent so much time making the last time I read over this thing, only a month or so ago. They were good notes, and I will make sure to go look them over after these maps are all drawn up. And I’ll probably re-read the manuscript from start to finish while I’m at it, just to be thorough, and for a second impression post-cartography. I’m looking forward to the results, seeing what all of this experimental focus-shifting does to my perspective on the story as a whole.
So basically it’s going well, despite the title of this post. It’s going very well. I think I can live with that.