22 August 2015

My Novel is a Mess (How to survive the chaos point in your novel)

by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Yes, I’m at that point.  Writing to a specific word count, three-quarters written, and my eleventh novel is an unqualified mess. 

If you are a veteran writer like me, you say it’s not going to happen this time.  But it does.
EVERY FREAKING TIME.

Here’s why:  
The Linear Approach:

This time, you are going to write linear, by gawd.  One chapter after another, in mathematical order, until you reach the end.  Each chapter will have an outline.

But here’s the problem with that.  You signed a contract that specifies a pretty exact word count.  Is your story going to magically end at the precise word count you need?

Damn straight, it’s not.  It’s going to meander along, minding its own business, taking little side trips, refusing to stay on course.

Because, of course, outlines are just that.  They’re a guide.  You don’t know whether the story is really going to pull together with sufficient motivation and all the goodies until you actually write the thing.  And here’s what happens along the way:

You need a new character to make the plot work.  You just thought of a fab new subplot.  Orlando doesn’t work as a side-setting.  You need to move it to Phoenix, and that means a whole lot of changes…

And before you know it, you’re scribbling on the outline, adding this, subtracting that, and it hits you in the face. Your book is a mess.

Scene plus Scene

I write comedy, and comedy is finicky.  Those good lines come when they come, and you have to get them down fast.  Sometimes they’ll present themselves to me when I’m in a restaurant.  Sometimes, when I’m already in bed.  (Yes, I keep a pen and paper on my bedside table. Ditto, by the loo.)

I always have an outline.  But when writing a highly comedic book, you have to write those funny scenes when you are inspired.  This means hopping around the timeline, writing the scene that works for you today, thinking of another great line, hopping back to an old scene to insert it, when you should be moving forward.  

Which brings you to this point: the important scenes are written, and they present themselves like completed sections of a jigsaw puzzle.  Little isolated islands without any bridges to each other.  You need to find the pieces that are missing and write the bits to connect them.

Because Sister, your novel is a mess.

That’s the point I’m at now.  The comedy is there.  The conflicts are in place.  The climax is written.  Now I need to take that kaleidoscope and move those pieces into the pattern that works best.

How to cope?  I think the best thing you can do is accept that this is going to happen.  Unless you are a robotic automaton lacking inspiration, you are going to veer from the plan more than once. 

At some point, every novel you write is going to be a mess. 

My advice: just accept it.  And understand that part of your role as writer is that of clean-up artist. 

That’s where I stand today, staring at a story that looks like a tornado just ran through it.

Time for the cleanup crew. And a healthy wee dram.

Melodie Campbell writes funny novels, including the multi-award winning book, The Goddaughter's Revenge.  You can buy them in Chapters, Barnes &Noble,  and all the usual suspects online.

7 comments:

Eve Fisher said...

God bless you as you pull the novel together. I know you can do it, but I understand the sinking feeling as you look at the chaos...

Melodie Campbell said...

Eve, it's like I've written all the fun parts, and now I have to do the slogging work. This is where the discipline comes in.

Leigh Lundin said...

I never could understand how people met their word count without flying way over or landing short. But I definitely believe in the notepad and pencil on the bedstand, in the theatre, on a dinner date…

Jan Grape said...

Meloie, it's supposed to be a mess at this point. This is your first draft? Now is the time to let it all flow until the end. Set it aside afor a couple of days then when you go back you be able to see how to sort it all out. And honestly I'd rather have too much written than not enough. Becuse I think it's easier to cut than to try to add a whole scene or subplot. Don't get panicky when you think its a mess most of of us feel that way a some point.. Yet we know too, that we can put in the extra discipline and work to get it all up to par.

Melodie Campbell said...

No substitute for the pencil and notepad, Leigh! I once used an eyebrow pencil on a mag in a car (I wasn't driving).

Melodie Campbell said...

Jan, just wish I could always write linear, but oh! I'd find that boring. Well, I am going to take your advice and leave it for a while :)

Dixon Hill said...

Thanks, Melodie! Nice to know others are in a similar boat. Now, if I can just find those blasted oars!

--Dixon