Hello, Blogosphere, and good morning.
So I’ve recently been removed from my wisdom teeth…as of this morning, actually…and right now I’m very much appreciating my dentist’s idea of an Ice Hoodie. It’s rather ingenious, truth be told, so…shout-out to them.
However, that is not my point.
Readers…I’ve hit a breakthrough.
About my current story, the one I’m writing.
So…a few basic plot details, to start. I’ve been holding off on these for purposes of marketability, but this won’t really give away too much.
My book, the one I’ve completed already and was going to finish edits on over the course of three days, follows a kid going through foster care. He had an absentee father and his mother (teen mom) died when he was young, so he went to live with his grandmother, who died when he was fifteen. The story picks up there and he goes through a series of bad foster homes and meets some people and avec avec avec, to demonstrate my immense knowledge of French. Really not that immense, considering I just said “with with with” in exchange for “et cetera”, which in hindsight may be French itself, but…you know.
**BREAK FOR HINDSIGHT** After finishing this post I realized it’s a LOT longer than I expected…know this, but still, feel free to read to the end.
I’ve been confused at my character’s purpose in this book. Like…I know what it is on a superficial level, in finding a stable home and all that jazz, but…in terms of something I could say to another author, I’ve been unable to grasp at it.
Until a couple days ago.
So I sent the book out to a few beta readers, including the wonderful and ever-knowledgeable Stephanie of BeKindRewrite, and a sub-group of them, including Her Aforementioned Illustriousness, got back to me with their honest edits.
I’m not sure if anybody’s familiar with the feeling where you’re looking at your own work, after you’ve finished it or even as you’re writing it, and you know something’s wrong but you’re not sure exactly what. And you’re not disillusioned with it, at all, so you still keep writing with that sense nagging at you, and while you end up feeling good about the work it still seems incomplete, deficient in some way.
I’ve been wrestling with that feeling for the past…well, nearly two years now, from when I started writing it. And I’ve kept on and finished and took a year off and had a month-long editorial frenzy that ended about two weeks ago so I could send it out to people, but that feeling never left. And truth be told, I agonized over it, very much. I didn’t find what I was looking for.
Well, the beta readers responded, most of them, and I got my feedback…and in it were the gems I was looking for.
They put it into words.
The problems, the struggles, the things my Inner Critic (whom I will talk about at a later date) held behind his back and taunted me with.
I know what they are, now, and I can act upon them.
A couple of the big ones, just for the sake of possibly characterizing anyone’s troubles as these wonderful people have done for me (as transposed from e-mails by beta readers):
1. The main character doesn’t grow sufficiently. Events happen to him, and he eventually finds a home, but he does little to earn that happy ending.
2. Too much dialogue that doesn’t move the story forward.
3. The voice of the main character is not convincingly teen-aged.
4. Very few scenes from the book lodge in my memory. I’m not sure you know which scenes are most important to establishing or growing the characters.
And so they continued. Now, to be fair, that particular beta-reader is advocating for a complete re-write of the novel because of those and some other glaring issues. That may or may not happen, depending on some other things I’ll say in a few moments. But…they’re all true, and they’re all those needling little things that have dug at me relentlessly from the very beginning of writing this.
So that was the first breakthrough.
The second came yesterday.
So there are essentially six segments to the story. I won’t describe them in detail, but suffice to say that the first is with the grandmother until she dies and the last is some sort of resolution and ending, the nature of which I of course will not disclose.
The first is okay, with the grandmother. Needs some minor reworking.
The second is actually pretty good. I really enjoy it and I’ve heard very little in terms of critiques on that. I’ve even gotten reports of a few tears from that part, which…WOW
(Sidenote: A reader wants to do fan art of my characters! I’ve been…how to say…fangirling over the fangirling for the past week. Sorry if it makes me sound conceited…but I need to share.)
The fifth is…decent, I guess. It’ll take more of a shape as I work on the rest of the story.
And the sixth is just like the second, maybe even a touch better, which I’m very happy about. Once again, it’ll take shape.
The real problem is the third and fourth.
They’ve been problems for a while, and I’ve been trying to keep the edits to minor reworkings rather than complete rewrites…but after receiving those bits of feedback, it’s become abundantly clear to me that the segments both need a major overhaul.
And yesterday I hit another breakthrough, this one about them.
So the really big problem has been that they both contain an awfully skewed proportion of talking to actually doing. Both have unrealistic parts, and in one events become downright unfeasible…and also, despite my best efforts, apparently a bit offensive to certain demographics. And to remedy this…I decided to take a leap of faith.
Based on reader feedback…I’m choosing one of them.
And eliminating it.
I realize that sounds like kind of an unspeakable action to take, cutting out a giant portion of one’s novel. But…bear with me.
In doing this, I’m not going to just get rid of all the story concepts. Oh, no…I’m going to combine them, carry over the best bits of the deceased piece to the survivor.
And more room, for another segment I thought up yesterday and now definitely will be writing.
That’s Breakthrough Number Two.
Now…Number Three…that’s the one I’m pretty pumped about.
So I mentioned before that I got removed from my wisdom teeth today. Quick update–not any pain, really, which is a wonderful little bit of unexpected goodness. I’m sitting in a recliner writing this while watching Pixar with my little brother, who was kind enough to give me a teddy bear which is currently resting on my chest and plotting world domination. Possibly.
The key word there is Pixar.
Up, in particular.
I was watching that movie with him and it occurred to me that I based a number of characters around what goes on in that opening montage. You know, the one that should be its own movie. In particular, though…Carl and Ellie.
Ellie was a huge inspiration for me as to what I wanted the character of the grandmother to be like. That practical creativity, the uniqueness…gah, I love it.
And Carl pretty much became a character in mine as well, a very major one–arguably on par with the grandmother. I won’t disclose the details, but rest assured any beta readers who read this will know who I’m talking about.
Just a bit of housekeeping: No, it’s not plagarizing. It’s being inspired. Mucho Differencio.
Anywhom, that made me realize something, which brings me back to the beginning of this post.
I realized what it is my character’s looking for, on an author-subliminal level.
So with the Hero’s Journey model–which I usually advise staying away from, post forthcoming–there’s that archetype of the Mentor character. This person goes and helps the Hero and gives needed knowledge–think Chiron from Greek mythology or Obi-Wan Kenobi if you want to get more pop-culture. And I’ve been operating on the premise that the story is going on as he gets new Mentors.
But here’s what I realized.
It goes beyond that.
This’ll make sense to anyone who’s finished it.
The entire story’s a prologue.
To the epilogue.
My main character, Jesse…I always thought I was telling his story.
But what I realized is that his story hasn’t even begun.
So the Hero’s Journey model goes as follows: Beginning in Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor, Acceptance of the Call, and some other stuff about the real meat and bones of the story which doesn’t really apply here.
Because the meat and bones of Jesse’s story doesn’t happen.
It doesn’t happen!
He gets the Ordinary World, before his mom dies. That’s the Call to Adventure. The Refusal is his life with the grandmother wherein he preserves a semblance of the Ordinary World, for another nine years.
But then she dies.
And he accepts the call, out of necessity.
But he can’t pursue it.
Because he’s missing one thing.
So the bit with the Mentor is that Jesse doesn’t have one. He loses his mother. Then his grandmother. He never has his father to begin with. He loses anyone else he could have hoped for, when he’s put into foster care. And as he bounces from home to home, he’s doing all that he does with the distant hope of finding this Mentor!
I won’t say whether he does or not, but I will reaffirm this:
This means that the entire story is about getting Jesse TO his journey! He’s not in it yet! He’s never been in it a day in his life! And he’s willing, ready and able to move on, but he’s missing that one crucial part that makes everything fit together!
His story still has yet to be written.
This book…it was giving him permission to write it.
I’m not sure if it shows, how excited I am right now. But I’m bouncing off the walls in my head.
I’m VERY happy.
So anyway, that’s it for today. I very much wanted to share everything I discovered recently, and if that helps people in the throes of their own books find purpose in their writing, great!
Leave comments in comments as always–don’t be shy! We need a bit more community around here, I think…let’s get it started.
Also…for the people who stayed long enough to read this sentence…thank you. You guys are awesome.
May you remain existential,