KNOWING WHEN TO START OVER…
Last night in an effort to sit down and finally make some headway with my current WIP, I plopped down in front of my word processor, brewed a nice pot of coffee, and opened up the story. It’s sitting at page 200 and in my mind, I’m about 2/3 of the way done with the novel. I had hopes of finishing it up by the middle of September and then allow it to sit so that I could come back with fresh eyes later. Except that I have now found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place with my protagonist. She’s injured, in confinement, and with very few (and I mean VERY few) options of escape. As I’ve plugged along, I’ve known that this was going to take lots and lots of revising and editing, that the story seemed off-kilter the way it was and could use tweaking. But I wanted to save it for when I’d actually completed the 2nd draft of the book. (The first draft was only fifty pages long and I’d decided to reinvent everything and start over).
I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to get some advice. I pulled out several books from my writing reference shelves and cracked them open, hoping for some wisdom inside of them. I found it in “The Fire in Fiction” by Donald Maass. In one of his very first chapters, he talks about understanding the drive of the protagonist within the first five pages, that we should have some idea of their flaws, their personality, and the issues they face. That’s not all. You have to also establish a mood, setting, and plot within those five pages as well, what writers like to call a “hook”. I thought I had done that but as I continued to read, I discovered that my protagonist’s drive was, well, not very believable. I then realized the more I thought about her that I didn’t even really understand her deepest fears and hopes. That…that’s a problem.
I sat for a time, reading through the book and writing down several different options to clarify my protagonist’s back story and justify her feelings towards the events in the novel. With a full page of ideas and my brain addled from a caffeine overdose, I went to sleep at midnight. I tossed and turned all night, although that might be from the heat and humidity than from troubling thoughts. This morning, as I soaked in rays of sunshine and coffee once more, the epiphany happened. I had a drive for my character. I had a purpose that fit perfectly with the mood and atmosphere I was going for, a purpose that would define her as a character and explain her reticence toward trusting others and her rather solitary journey. The only issue was that I would have to go back and do a major overhaul on what I’d already written.
I’d have to start over from the beginning.
When you are 200 pages into a project, something that you’ve spent years, time, money, blood, sweat, and tears on (okay, maybe not blood, but still…) a realization like that gives one feelings very akin to this.
(Joan Redfern is your book and you’re clinging to her for dear life.)
As much as this sets back my goals and will make rewriting this that much more aggravating, I know deep inside that it’s the only thing that I can do to progress. The story will feel less messy and the elements that seemed so wild and unrelated will make more sense. I will always have the 2nd draft and will cut and pull things from it here and there that I like. In order for the main character to make it to the end of this story, a change is going to have to happen.
Rewriting a story is not uncommon. One of my favorite authors, Michael Crichton had to rewrite “Jurassic Park” because his agents didn’t like a child as the sole protagonist. I’ve written about eight or nine different beginnings for this book and have scrapped most. I am genuinely hoping that this will be the last time for this particular project.
Here we go, coffee. Alley oop!