Recently, I went to an event with the amazing Victor LaValle and we talked about the course in introductory novel writing that he teaches. What stuck out to me was that he said that many beginner writers lack focus in this work. There’s an . And I realized that that was totally true about my work during the first draft, way back in college when my writing was actual trash.
The original conception for my novel was, “Hey, let’s build an awesome world that’s a spoof slash love letter to all of fantasy.”
Needless to say, months of rewriting later, it was a terrible idea. The story existed in this vacuum of plot with some character development divorced from any action. I’m a visual person and I couldn’t even picture my own characters doing things.
But there were strands. Strands that needed to be pulled into some kind of fabric or a braid. I needed my story to get from high-concept to high-action. And so I did.
How does one go about that? As I edited scenes, I realized the arcing tone of the narrative, which, for me, echoed my experience in college: Not belonging in the place you’re at in the mire of very high and very specific expectations. With this new lens, I asked myself a few questions:
- What’s my main character doing?
- Who are they interacting with and why?
- Does this secondary character add anything?
- Bonus points if you can combine secondary characters
- Does this moment do anything more than just elicit a laugh/tear/etc.?
- Every moment should build in some way to the next
- Why are we at this moment?
The amount of reflection it took to get me to understand what my own story was about is a little embarrassing. I was never one for getting anything right on the first shot. And writing is rewriting. I’m still in love with the world I built and the characters I created, I just have to do a lot more wordsmithing to get it all cohesive and to be the story that needs to be told.
It took me months and a NaNoWriMo’s worth of shed words to do it. And now I’m in the revision phase of Rewrite 3. And then moving onto the submission phase before I go to graduate school in September.