Justine: Second-Half Shipwreck

shipwreckThe first half of my book was a train wreck. It took me quite awhile to get it in decent working order, but I can say that for the most part, aside from some much-needed editing, it’s pretty good. Not perfect, but definitely a train chugging along the story railways.

Not so the second half.

After spending several weeks trying to salvage what has turned into a rusty, crack-filled, shipwrecked mess, I’ve decided to go back and reinvent the last half of my book. This isn’t something I approached lightly, or with any enthusiasm whatsoever (if my husband finds out, he’ll kill me. He’s done with this book as much as I am). I was hoping I was at the point where I could just Margie-EDIT the thing and slap a “Ready to Submit” sticker on it.

There are several reasons why that won’t work.

1. Coincidental Ending

As I mentioned in a previous post, coincidences to get your character into trouble are okay, but coincidences to get them out of trouble aren’t. I had major coincidences going on (and in fact, Susannah magically “finds” the evidence in order to save Nate at the end – I hadn’t really figured out exactly how that was going to happen).

2. Useless Scenes

One of the concerns I had as I got through the first half of the book was my word count, which had skyrocketed to 120K. Well, I’m not worried about that anymore. There are several scenes (and a subplot and two characters) that are on the chopping block. I also had a few “sittin’-and-thinkin’” scenes, and some that, quite honestly, I had no idea why they were there. A cutting I will go…

3. A Marriage License Issue

So the crux of my story is that Nate and Susannah marry for pretend in order to avoid Susannah being married off to her uncle’s friend, the viscount. Except that there’s no way she could marry – legally or otherwise – in England in 1815 without consent from her guardian, which is her uncle. I had to do some research on this and figure out how to make the whole fake marriage thing work plausibly, as well as the amazing ending I have planned, both for history’s sake and the story’s sake. (I did…I think.)

4. Building Tensions Between Uncle and Viscount

Another major story point is the power shift that happens between Susannah’s uncle and the viscount. It just wasn’t happening. It seemed incredibly forced and unnatural, which means what I have has to go.

There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it. Suffice to say, I needed to reboot the end.

So I spent a few days last week and today going through two things – a “story map” that I had created a year ago to piece together the different parts of the story, and a brief outline I created on my whiteboard for all of the major characters – a very basic “here’s what they do.”

The good news is that I have narrowed down my story into some basic events. Certainly not a detained outline, by any means (although it is my intention to do that, mostly for detail and timing purposes). But I know what each character needs to do at a minimum, and I think that was my problem with my earlier draft. I’d thrown everything and the kitchen sink in there and it was a convoluted, bunch-a-people-talking, magically-solving-the-mystery mess.

Over the next few days I plan to expand my outline and figure out a few logistical problems with how Susannah finds the evidence (I’ve brainstormed with my CP, but need to make it airtight), then it’ll be rewrite time. Don’t get me wrong – much of what I have I can reuse (needing a good edit, of course), but first it’s all going in the Scrivener Trash Can. The whole second half. I will then add chapters back one by one (if they fit the outline), revise, and write/rewrite anything new or unsalvageable.

Not a boring writing week, for sure. How’s your writing been? Any major stumbling blocks lately?

13 thoughts on “Justine: Second-Half Shipwreck

  1. I think one of the things that happened for all of us who went to McD, and to writers everywhere who are growing and evolving in their craft, is that we started our novels at one level of skill, and with expectations for ourselves and our work that aligned with that level of skill. But as we grew and stretched as authors, endings that seemed perfectly okay (and maybe even a stretch to pull off) aren’t good enough anymore. We want more from ourselves. And that’s a good thing.

    In my post on Sunday, I mentioned that it’s my fantasy to have someone someday compare my plots to Joss Whedon’s work. I want to set up a twists that are so out of left field and so crazy no one sees them coming, but at the same time, when they happen, the reader slaps herself on the forehead and says, “Of course!” (If she wants to bandy in the word “brilliant,” I’d be okay with that, too.) I’m not there, yet, but that’s where I want to be.

    Which is why Book #2 is giving me fits. There’s some good stuff going on, but I want more than that. It’s also what’s happening for you, I think.

    And this is how we’ll get there–by being unwilling to settle for an okay ending. By raising the bar and then practicing and practicing till we can make it over that bar.

    See you on the other side!

    • Jeanne, you hit the nail on the head. This book has been a constant evolution — it still is as I get better (hopefully) at things like description, using powerful words, and evoking emotion, not to mention major things like plot and conflict. I’ve said to my CP that I could probably sit down and write another book in about 3 months, because instead of trying to monkey with what I have that isn’t working, I’d just be starting fresh with all the experience of this book behind me.

      It really has been a learning curve. I’ve wondered if I should just stick it in a drawer and write something else, then come back to this later when I have the time, patience, and excitement to do so, because right now, this thing feels like an albatross around my neck.

      I don’t wonder now why Chuck Wendig says it took 5 years to write his first book and six months to write his second.

      And I”m with you on the plotting. Nothing vanilla. I want them to be exciting and have you hanging on the edge of your seat.

      I hope there’s wine and chocolate on the other side!

      • “I don’t wonder now why Chuck Wendig says it took 5 years to write his first book and six months to write his second.”

        This is just what I needed to hear today. IDK, I shelved several books. I don’t know if it really matters if you keep working on one book, or if you work on what’s juicy and good. What matters is to keep working. I learned something from every single first draft I finished. I think I’m ready for a good second draft, now.

    • What Jeanne said, and I think it’s true of most (all?) writers. I love it when an author has a really long back catalogue and you can see how their skills developed with each book. Just not so much fun when you’re in the middle, wrestling with the growing pains 😉 .

  2. I am getting ready to write my second half. Or my middle half. Or all the other scenes. When I think about my story I come up with brilliant ideas that if I could just get them on the page using good craft, the story will be brilliant. If . . .

    • Haha, I’m glad someone else does that, too! I can see the end product, but trying to get from here to there seems impossible. It’s almost as if it’s too much for my brain to handle right now. I love the word “if.” It’s so…ambiguous.

      • One member of my beta reading group talks about “when your reach exceeds your grasp.” That’s where we all are, I think. We can reach for the prize, but we can’t quite close our fingers around it.

  3. Pingback: Elizabeth: Back to Basics – Writing Life | Eight Ladies Writing

  4. And now I can’t get Florence and the Machine’s song Ship to Wreck out of my head. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B9v8jLBrvug).

    You’re right, it’s so hard to get the story on the page to be anything close to the (perfect! brilliant! beautiful!) story in your head. It’s something I don’t think non-writers understand, but writing just doesn’t work that way.

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