Last week I had an epiphany…
For those of you unaware of my writing journey, I completed my first novel about a year ago – and by complete I mean I’d written a first draft, second draft, revised and polished to submission quality, with each process taking about 8 months (I’ve written other things before, but I’ve never taken them so far).
Anyways, the final product was a wieldy 105,000 words – way too much for a debut novel. Usually for Young Adult fiction, a new writer should aim for anywhere between 50,000 and 80,000 words – definitely no more than 90,000. So I knew I would be pushing it with agents and publishers submitting the novel as is.
In my gut, I knew the issue rested with the start of my novel.
A third of the way through, my story really took off and kept going great guns all the way to the end. It was the first third that was the problem – I had a lot of setting up squished into the first 100 pages – or, as Blake Snyder calls it in Save the Cat, lots of piping.
And I didn’t know how to fix it.
Then finally, I received some amazing feedback from an editor who acknowledged my issue and suggested a fix might be to bring one of the key incidents (that takes place about 150 pages in) forward.
So I thought about this and thought about this, discussed it with my beta readers, and finally came up with a new way of structuring my novel. It only took me about two months to rework everything, and when I was done I had a new and improved version – with the incident in question now taking place within the first 50 pages and my total word count standing at a svelte 88,500.
Finally I was ready to take on the world of submissions…
…or so I thought.
After getting my novel out there and receiving some more feedback, I realised – just last week – I’d revised my novel ALL WRONG!
Yes, the word count is right where it needs to be… but now I fear I have too many conflicts/motivations crammed into the beginning. In my first version, it is very clear what my main character wants – to run away with her childhood sweetheart (this is the entire premise of the first third of the novel). Then in the second third of the novel, the obstacles start piling up in her way, one after the other.
But by bringing one of the obstacles to the start of the novel, what I’ve done is muddy the waters. It’s no longer as clear what my main character wants or what her main conflict is – she’s effectively running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Well, maybe it’s not that bad… but still, it’s an issue.
Now believe me, I was not too keen on realising this. But, as is typical Yani fashion, I just couldn’t let this lie. I love this story – I have to get it right (or at least as right as I can get it). So I thought, “Hey, let’s look at a few other stories of like genre and see how they lay the foundations in the first few scenes. Maybe I can learn a few things.”
And I did – as I said, I had an epiphany.
I started my novel TOO SOON!!!!
Yes, you read that right! I committed one of the simplest and most well-known errors a writer can make. You might not believe this, but I actually had contemplated it before – and ruled it out – as in my original version of Boudica’s story I started writing in 2009 (back before she had super powers and she was just a simple lass), I had included seven chapters about their childhood, which I omitted in my later drafts. “I have started just right, now,” I thought, as I typed the scene of Aiden’s return.
Pfft… I was soooo wrong.
No, instead of starting when Aiden returns, I need to start several months later, when they’ve already spent time together and fallen in love, and Aiden is asking her to run away with him. Then – BAM! – obstacle number one raises its ugly head, and then – BAM – obstacle number two soon after. And so on, and so on.
And you’ll never guess where in the 105K version of this novel this new starting point sits… right at the end of that pesky first third!
I see it so clearly now – and it’s such an easy fix. All I need to do is lop of the first third of the novel, rework anything from that first third that is integral to the plot into the last two thirds, and then smooth the changes throughout the novel. Not only will my word count be within the right range, all my original and carefully worked out character motivations and conflicts will prevail exactly the way they were supposed to.
Now I’ve just got to do it 🙂
Fortunately, I’ve almost finished writing the first draft of my second novel – my YA portal fantasy inspired by Norwegian folklore. As of last night, I officially have only five scenes left to draft. So once I sign off “The End”, I can throw myself back into my Whisperer novel and get the damn thing right, once and for all…
Oh, and by the way – the Buffy/Angel rewatch is going great! Cole and I are halfway through Season 4 and loving every moment of it :p