2nd Subtitle: I Think I Need a Co-Pilot
However it might appear from the titles, this is not a motoring post. Believe it or not, it is a post about writing. Let me s’plain:
Late last week, in a panic (typical) because I had procrastinated on completing an entrance application for a writing program and didn’t know which story to submit (also typical), I emailed the first 15 pages of The Novel to a very wise and trustworthy writing sister. Although her schedule is packed, she very kindly read it at 5 a.m. the morning after I sent it to her.
The news wasn’t all bad.
Now, when I say I trust this woman, I say that wholeheartedly. If The Novel was shit, she would’ve (gently) told me so and she didn’t, so I’m heartened about that. However, she did go over the first 15 with a fine-tooth comb (amazing for the hour she was reading but she is a professor).
I’ve met her exactly twice. She and I took an online writing class together and we’ve been online sisters ever since. We live in opposite ends of the city; our lives do not intersect. However, just from reading her writing and seeing how thoughtfully she critiqued other’s work, I knew she had a good eye, a good ear, and she was honest without being brutal. Her critiques have always been unfailingly helpful.
My poor tired eyes have reviewed these same 15 pages so often that they (the eyes) have become essentially useless. That is why I missed, overlooked, and ignored so many obvious flaws. Which is why it is absolutely, positively, unequivocably essential that writers borrow, hire or kidnap additional pairs of peepers to review their work.
So, back to the detours, U-turns, and wrong turns…I’ve never written anything near the scope of The Novel before. This story has been careening around in my brain for nearly a decade. There have been plenty of false starts. Of those false starts, I’ve been able to salvage maybe a paragraph or two over the years.
Somehow, I’ve always been able to build the story back up around those two paragraphs. So with great gusto, I built it up to about 270 pages before sending the first 15 off to my “editor.” Time to get the pruning shears back out.
Or is it?
Right off the bat she had problems with the main character, Emma. Well, shit. If we’ve got problems with her, how much hope is there for anything else? (This is me in “self-pity, moaning” mode)
Stand back, writer, and look at the comments and the story objectively. Nobody said this was easy. So, the main character needs more…everything. Or, do the first 15 pages just need more tweaking? It’s hard to say after only 15 pages and that’s why my online sister is going to be given a few more sets of 15. Right now, her toes are barely in the water. She needs to get in up to her knees (ok, maybe mid-calf) before she starts yelling for help.
Nonetheless, while she’s paddling around in my story, I’m going to do a little learnin’, perhaps on character development. In my heart of hearts, I think Emma is a good character. She has potential so all is not lost. In a quick online search, I found a blog by Holly Lisle that looks really interesting. I will investigate what she (and others)have to say thoroughly. Everyone has been here before, not just me.
Editors look for a few basic things, I’m thinking. Well developed characters might very well be one of them. I need my characters to stand out, be memorable, have heart, make the reader care. Even if you hate a character, you still care. The Wicked Stepmother was a vain, selfish bitch but we cared enough to want her to bite into the poisoned apple, not Snow White.
Have you ever driven, hell for leather, down a road only to have this nagging feeling you might be going in totally the wrong direction? Hmmm…I get this too, sometimes. But I’m a worrier. Even if the SAT-NAV, the map, and my husband tell me I’m going the right way, doubt still holds me in its clutches. It’s not that I ride the brake but sometimes I do put the pedal down with my eyes closed…drives my passengers slightly crazy.
I am also getting more adept at U-turns. And, it’s never too late to ask for directions.