You may have noticed my absence these past four months. I've been steadily working on what I believed was the final draft of my follow up novel to BREAKFAST WITH NERUDA. For nearly three years I've been accumulating words, adding scenes and chapters, moving things around, and rewriting the beginning. An earlier draft was rejected by my editor at Merit, with the comment the stakes weren't high enough. So I examined the book again, chapter by chapter, and reordered scenes and re drafted from the beginning.
At 72,000 words I thought the book was finished. Yet I accumulated more rejections. While most of the agents I sent this to complimented the writing and the well developed characters, they couldn't relate to the story.
And that was the problem. When people asked me what my book was about, the best answer I could come up with is "about 300 pages" because I had no story.
Had I wasted three years on writing a book going nowhere? Yes and no.
Yes, because I spent 3-4 hours every day, including holidays, on this set of characters and their journey. I worried about Michael, Shelly and the others. In addition, I spent many hours researching environment and oceanography to provide authenticity to one of my characters. (The result of that is I now know how precarious our future is. Dystopian novels are within inches of being reality.)
Yet no, the time was not wasted because I know everything about my characters-- much more than the reader will know. Most of the 72,000 words are unusable. At least in this story. I may be able to use some scenes in a subsequent story.
So I set aside what I called my Frankennovel, and with the help of a few writer friends' suggestions, started over. The last chapter of my 72,000 piece became the first chapter of the novel that seemed to write itself in three months.
How was this possible? First, I stopped working on the Frankenovel for a couple of weeks. Instead, I read. STORY GENIUS, WIRED FOR STORY, THE ANATOMY OF STORY, and TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS. While reading the first three books listed I learned I had no sense of story, and my book had a theme, but no concept All of these guides include exercises to question what is at the core of my story. The fourth book helped me see how being a panster vs. a plotter is an inefficient ay to write. all these books taught me if you can't define the truth behind your tale in a sentence, there's a problem.
It took me 72,000 words to find the inciting incident. Once I isolated that final chapter from the Frankennovel, I was able to move the real story forward. Same characters and location, but only about 15,000 words of the Frankennovel survived, written in as flashbacks. Other than what is now Chapter One, the rest of the tale is new.
The new manuscript weighs in at 76,000 words. My critique group is helping point out where the book sags and where it sings. The best part is I can now sum it up in one sentence. (which I won't tell you yet...sorry.) Having that logline is a beacon to keep me on track so I don't invent great scenes (like the funny one in Costco) that have nothing to do with the plot. Like Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars film, my mantra has become "stay on target."