I initially wanted to call this post ‘what to do when your novel goes nips up’, but I wouldn’t even know where to begin SEO-wise, so I went with ‘negotiating plot changes’. Snappier it may be, but the actual body of this post does discuss how to proceed when one’s novel goes nips up. I don’t like the word tits (using it myself that is – I laugh at blue tits being called blue tits as much as the next person).
So yes. After spending much of last year slogging through the first draft of my novel, I finally got the whole thing printed off. My plan to proceed had to been to read through each page carefully and annotate it, and then re-type the whole thing with any changes made.
Ok, I know that first drafts are supposed to be crap, but mine was one line of information about the current state of affairs to ten pages of backstory. That does not a good novel make.
Also, my plot wasn’t really so much of a plot as a few dull events strung together with, yup, more backstory.
So, on Wednesday night I had a rejig. And by a rejig I meant I completely rethought my plot. Like, completely. It was extremely daunting at the time, but actually, I’m really glad I did it. In the back of my mind, I think I knew that my first draft was really just me telling myself about the world I’d created and the characters in it.
I’m a terrible planner. I’m also not the best pantser. I start planning, get all excited and then get typing. After about three pages it turns to drivel. My first draft was, in essence, an exercise in world building.
So, how to continue?
I read a really good article on Pinterest about why you should consider hand writing your first novel – in a nutshell, your brain is more open to creativity when you hand write – so I thought I’d give that a go. Hand lettering and calligraphy is definitely something I’d like to get better at, so why not write my novel out by hand?
It has really made a difference. I think it’s a combination of a less glaringly white page than a screen and the ability to doodle in the margins – the words seem to flow more easily. I’m trying to write two pages a day with a couple of days off a week and it’s going pretty well. I”m hoping that I’ve eliminated 93% of the backstory and actually got, you know, a plot.
Tips for rethinking your novel
» Don’t just continue on in the vague hope that thrashing the dead story will bring it back to life. I know that changing an entire story is hard but just whip that plaster off. I’m lucky in that I’m an underwriter rather than an overwriter, so my first draft was only 50,000 words. I imagine if I’d written a 200,000 worder it’d be harder to take a step back.
» No regrets. I know my characters extremely well, and I have their backstories down. When I was writing my first draft, I had to keep checking back to see who grew up where and who already knew who and so on. Now all of that is etched on my brain. It makes it a lot easier to write characters when you’ve memorised them. I also know their voices, so can think up entire conversations in the shower. Has anyone tried one of those waterproof note pads? I may need to invest in one.
» Don’t be scared to make enormous changes if you feel it would benefit your story. I changed one of my main character’s species.
» Don’t be overly critical. If you think something’s too predictable or boring, I’d recommend asking for a second opinion. Of course you can see the plot twist coming – you planned it, wrote it, and rereead it eight thousand times.
» Have a go at writing your novel on paper. I was surprised at how different an experience it was (plus no refreshing Twitter every two minutes). Even if you just hand write a detailed synopsis or a few scenes, I’m sure you’ll see a difference.
» Don’t give up. I know it’s a cliche, but don’t. Writing a novel is not the linear process we all envision it to be. Just think of the stories you can tell on chat shows when you’re famous, about the main character used to have five heads.
Any other business?
I started reading Sculptor’s Daughter by Tove Jansson, at the recommendation of my dad. He was right. It is super weird, and not like any autobiography I’ve ever read. Actually, she stresses that it isn’t technically an autobiography, more a collection of stories she wrote about her childhood that have an element of truth to them.
It is extremely strange.
So strange, in fact, that I’m also rereading Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, so I can have a bit of light reading before going to sleep. Don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying it – but if you pick it up and read it and your brain melts a bit, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Yesterday we took out Bobby, a Patterdale terrier currently residing at our local Blue Cross. We walked poor Bobby for a while last year, and sadly he was returned to the centre. We LOVE him but he can be a little sod. Yesterday he got a nettled foot and refused to walk any further. Dave had to march off ahead in order to make Bobby move his lazy-ass bones.
I have been doing yoga since January. I love it but I still can’t even nearly touch my toes. Maybe by Christmas.