I had reached the half way point of my current project. I thought I knew enough, as much as I ever do, and could just keep plodding on, instead I hit a wall. The words were coming, however slowly, the character was walking – literally – somewhere she hadn’t been before, headed where I knew I wanted to take her and yet as I was writing I had this overwhelming feeling – I don’t want to write this.
For the first time since I finished my debut novel near 4 years ago I was considering abandoning a project.
I’ve struggled with this one from the start. There were pieces I liked as I put it together, there was a sense it was the sort of thing I would have loved to read once upon a school day, yet I could never fully engage with the characters. But I just kept hoping in time it would draw me in. Until I found myself wondering if it was time to jack it in.
I felt like a monkey tapping at the keys for the sake of tapping..
I don’t ever want to feel like that, not when it comes to writing. It’s a suit I have to put on for work everyday, so when I writing I want to leave the fur in the closet.
Didn’t want to quit though. I had 30,000 words. And I didn’t hate those words. There were some pretty ones in there, not heaps, but some I hoped and much more importantly I hoped there was plenty of good story. Pretty is easy. I can do pretty til the cows come home, and then leave again, fed up with the lady wittering on in the corner. Story is hard.
Out of all aspects of novel writing, it is the hardest for a writer to view objectively. If the devil is in the detail then revelation is in the overview. Just as you cannot see the forest for the trees, so you cannot see your story for the words. The trees could be planted in the shape of a giant arrow with a nice sign saying, follow the trees, but all you can see is..
The answer to that many would say, and I’m not going to disagree is in the planning. There are three types of planners: before, during and after. Many argue for before – in the heated days leading up to nanowrimo the emphasis on pre-planning is considerable, the only way, you’ll be warned, to avoid the mid-story dip.
I say everyone is different. I never sit down to write with a plan, but I also never sit down to write without a story – the who, what and where it ends.
This one was didn’t feel any different to any other. I knew the beginning, I was quite happy with it, I knew the characters, the backstory and I knew how I wanted to tie up the central mystery, even written out a bit of the ending. I just didn’t know at the half way point how to get there. I didn’t seem to have enough around which to structure the next half, nothing substantial enough to hold my interest. And that’s worrying – if I amn’t interested then ..
The second reason story is so difficult to judge is that it’s a cumulative effect. But we can’t appreciate it. We are building it piece by piece, jumping ahead, checking back, connecting threads, correcting typos, phrasing sentences.. rephrasing sentences.. re-rephrasing sentences.. We know what happens, when it happens, what has to happen.. while our readers are chewing their fingernails thinking, ooh what’s going to happen?
Planning ahead, even if I could manage it, would only exacerbate this effect. There are times when writing when I can become a reader of my own story, things unfolding in my head and flowing right out my fingertips. Almost every word of this story has been hard. I didn’t know why, I only knew I wasn’t interested. I didn’t really care about the resolution and I had at least 30,000 words still to write about it.
Then inspiration hit – I know where to take it. It resolves as I knew it would, but now it has substance – questions, conflicts – around which I can structure the last part .
I realised I had only half a plot, a shell, with nothing inside. What’s the point of a shell without a snail to protect? No central premise. Just events, plodding one behind the other. Yes I had set them up to slowly unravel the mystery, but all it was revealing was more shell – facts, events. I need more than that. Characters and how they relate to each other is not separate to plot, it is an intricate part of it, for me anyway. And I wish for others too.
Plot gets a bad rap as the cheap easy formula of Hollywood blockbusters. The arthouse/literary crowd eschew it in favour of character. While the pot boilers ignore character which means a world without sense. Character isn’t just your Mary Sue, its the people who defined the world which she must put to rights. They must answer to your readers by the rules and perversities and loopholes you offer up in your plot.
Likewise you remove events and you just have navel gazing – not story, just the outline, a theory of a story. If I want to read somebody’s opinion on somebody else I’ll check out Ok magazine. And its about as realistic, because its untethered from problems, decisions and consequences – those little things that make up life and also, story.
So I don’t know if I am quite ready to slide that black door shut and let BA drive us into the dust, but I have a shape, the missing piece of my story. The nitty gritty I can get back to eking out sentence by sentence and hope..