Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Courage to Play

The beginning of my novel has a problem. I've felt something not quite right about it for a long time, and have tried adding characters, new scenes, greater conflict, and those were good things to do, but the problem remains.

I've heard at least ten times from readers- "Once I got into it, I loved it." and "After the first few chapters, it's like reading a different book." But the first few chapters have information that the reader must have, and the tone is going to be different because the world is different.

Mr. Agent's only criticism of my writing (that he informed me of, at least!) was that he didn't connect with the tone. So. There's a problem.

I was fiddling around with the idea of making a prologue, something that would let the reader know that there is a serious love story ahead, I've foreshadowed, but it wasn't enough. Then I read FIRE, by Kristin Cashore, and realized that flashbacks would fit the situation better. I know. Flashbacks have a bit of a stigma, they're confusing, they break up the tension, they're pointless- why not just show the action in real time? But I tried that, and it messes up the tone of the beginning of the novel, when readers are deciding if they like where the book is going.

But what if the difference in tone, each world having very obviously different setting and characters, made it easier to separate what story line we're in? Then it would be an asset to have such different tones.

In 'Fire', all of the flashbacks are focused on the main character, Fire's, relationship with her psycho but loving (to her) father. In the present, the reader knows he's dead. In the past, he's alive. Having a cue like that made it very easy to follow.

So, I've set up my scenes in parallel. For instance, when Lara, my MC is interrogated by the FBI, they ask her about a missing girl, and she flashes back to ther last time she saw her, when Lara was essentially interrogating the missing girl. Both scenes are stronger for being juxtaposed like that. I think.

Yesterday, I reordered my scenes. And though I have a word processor and it's just a matter of cutting and pasting and spending a few hours (like ten) checking for continuity, it felt like the riskiest thing I've done in months. I was giddy and excited to see if it would work.

I'm think it's smoothing out the speedbump of the first few chapters- which were engaging and interesting already, just separate from the rest of the book. If they were awful scenes, then switching up the order wouldn't help, but I think it was just too much at once. Regardless, I won't make a final decision until I've had some trusted readers look over it.

So, if something isn't working, don't be afraid to try something a little different. It might even make things better. And the worst that can happen is you backup your file, mess around and have to revert to the previous version. Oh well! It's worth a try!

Writing a novel is supposed to be creative! Have fun with it and don't be afraid to lose a few hours to an experiment. In an amusing twist, reordering things will make my opening scene the arrest scene, which was my opening scene in my first draft. Hmmm. Full circle?

How do you find courage to try new things? Are you like me and wait until it is completely obvious that something needs to be done? Thanks for reading!


  1. I definitely have a hard time taking risks, but I'm committed to taking them this time around. And I've already changed way more of Bob than I ever changed with SEE THE SAMELINGS or EARTH CHILD. We'll have to see how it all turns out...

    (And Kelly, I think beginnings are the toughest. I'm still not convinced Bob's first chapter is exactly how it should be (and I've been working on it for nine months now). I think I've got the right scene, but maybe not all the right details.)

  2. I'm struggling with my beginning too. Good luck!

  3. Thanks Krista- It's been hard to break out of the pattern of the first draft, but good.
    Have fun with Bob!

    Myrna- Yep. I keep thinking I've got it down, and then I don't.

  4. Writing is hard--PERIOD! If I was not sure that this is God's calling on my life, I'd quit and go find a real job. But I have to write and so I do. And God is faithful and provides what I need when I need it. Not always the way I had planned, but always in the best way. Then I know it's a gift from Him and not just because I did it all myself.

  5. Missy- *smiles* it sure is hard. But a lovely gift all the same. Like all of the lovely gifts I've received- kids, husband, a place to live- it all takes effort, but that makes it all the sweeter.

  6. I love your blog and came to visit just at the right time!

    I'm actually having this same problem at the moment, the beginning of my novel isn't working for me but after that everything is going well. Gosh darn't it drives me crazy! Missy helped me today too! I'm glad to know that I'm not alone... Writing is hard... period. That's good to know.

  7. It's always good to stir things up. As remember rules were made to be broken. :)

  8. Hi Jen- Thanks for reading and the lovely compliment. Missy is a great cheerleader, too.

    Hey Kathi-Rules were made to be broken- absolutely- but which ones? I'm still doing some trial and error, but it's fun! Thanks for stopping in.

  9. Hi there,

    I find that oftentimes I'm too lazy to shift things to see how they work out. :( Eventually though, if a trusted reader tells me that something isn't working, I'll make the effort to mix things up a little and seed if that works.

  10. Hi Joy- Yep, I get lazy too. I have to be really sure something to change before I find the time to tear it apart. yay for trusted readers!