Just Like Starting Over – Knowing When Your Book Just Isn’t Working (and what you can do about it) Last week I was going great guns on my new book, The Shoestring Proposal, the second book about two sisters called Julia (Jules) and Pandora Schuster. So there I was, typing away happily, 10,000 words in when I started to get this niggling feeling that something just wasn’t right. I soldiered on and finished my day’s writing. Then I read it over and started swearing under my breath. Nope, it really, really wasn’t working.
So I spent all evening thinking about it. Why wasn’t it working? And then I figured it out. I’d planned to book to revolve around Jules, the younger sister. But when I was plotting it in my notebook (yellow naturally), I realised that Jules was on the outside, looking in at the problems and tribulations of her sister’s life and not in the thick of action, which is a no no. So I started again and threw some almighty problems Jules’s way instead.
But the problems I’d given her didn’t quite sit right. And besides, I’d given her such a rough ride in the previous book that it seemed unrealistic to give her such big problems in book 2 also. Yes, I know she’s only a fictional character, but she’s pretty darn real to me. So I was basically throwing a rather random (if good and well thought out) problem at Jules that didn’t quite fit her character. And that’s why it wasn’t working – I was trying to cram a square problem into a round character.
Novels work best when your main character is in major trouble. And if that trouble only gets worse and worse, good! Put your character up a tree and throw stones as at her as the old saying goes. So I started thinking about the original storyline – where Jules is watching horrible things happen to her sister. And then I had a thought. What if I make book 2 Pandora’s story, not Jules’s at all? What if I put her in the thick of the action, and use her as my main character? She’s a really interesting character, a complete control freak with a 9 year old daughter and a lot of unresolved issues in her past. Her family have no idea who Iris’s father is, and when Pandora has a cancer scare, she decides to travel to Paris to find him. But that’s a complete disaster too. (See, lots of stone throwing going on!).
So I’ve started again – using Pandora as the main character and now I’m flying along. I know exactly where I’m heading, plot wise (I plotted the last book carefully and it seemed to work well for me, so I’ve done that again) and I’m happy out.
I’ve lost about 5,000 words but in the grand scheme of things, that’s nothing. I once wrote pretty much a whole book, only to realise it wasn’t good enough. In fact, I have 2 almost complete novels sitting on my computer that will never see the light of day. But I learned a lot from writing both of them and in the case of the second one, the ballet research and the setting have been pinched for the 2012 Amy Green book, Dancing Daze, set partly in a ballet school. So nothing is ever wasted.
As Beckett once said ‘Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
Oh I’m failing better all right! And learning as I go along. And today – today I made my editor cry. Yes!!!
Yours in writing,