Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Confession is Good for the Soul and the Writer

Last week I started the first major rewrite of my third novel, my women’s fiction book THE SEESAW EFFECT And even though I’ve been writing for my entire life and even though I’ve done extensive rewrites on at least 10 screenplays – not to mention the two novels preceding this one – I still find myself making the same mistakes over and over again. To purge myself, I thought I would confess my sins to the world, or at least the small, literary portion of the world that reads my blog. Here they are:

My male characters tend to be one-dimensional jerks. Not all of them, of course. The love interests are funny and kind and give my heroines space. But their ex-husbands or soon-to-be-ex-husbands are total louts. They ignore their children; they belittle my heroine; they whine; they blow their small problems out of proportion. This is an issue because it pulls the reader out of the story – no one can possibly be that bad! – and makes readers wonder why my heroine ever got together with such a creep in the first place. Perhaps this would be okay if I were writing satire, but I’m not. Not yet, anyway. Not completely. So during the rewrite, I need to soften the worst hard edges, give rational excuses for some of the behavior (work stress), and remember who my heroine fell in love with in the first place.

I take too long to get to the main point. I didn’t have this issue when I was writing screenplays – I was pretty disciplined about having my inciting incident happen on or about page 10 – but in novels, there seems to be so much more to say before putting in the complication that changes my heroine’s life. I was lucky enough that in KEEPING SCORE, Sam was asked to play on a baseball travel team right on page 10, the last page of chapter one. That seems to be the most logical place to put that incident. I have the set-up on page 5 for THE SEESAW EFFECT, but the actual event that changes my heroine’s life doesn’t happen till … gulp …. Page 50. I want to show every aspect of her life before it happens, but I know in my heart that fifty pages is too many. Now I understand why other novels begin their books with the inciting incident, and then flash back to show the days leading up to it. Maybe I’ll do that in the next draft.

I take too long to get to Act 2. On a similar note, while I was usually able to get to Act 2 around page 25 for my screenplays, (if you’re unfamiliar with screenplay structure, the inciting incident in Star Wars is when Obi-Wan asks Luke to come with him and train to be a Jedi. Act 2 starts after Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, and Luke says yes.) I write way too many pages in between. In KEEPING SCORE, I know I should have skipped over the weeks between Sam joining the Cougars and when summer play actually began, but I had all those scenes where I wanted to show how Jennifer and Shannon were growing apart, along with Sam and Matthew. If I had to do it all over again… well, I’d probably do the same thing! Sometimes people really don’t learn from their mistakes.

Some of my funny scenes border on ridiculous. The editor I hired for KEEPING SCORE called them my “I Love Lucy” scenes. Well, I have a lot of friends who adore “I Love Lucy,” so originally I didn’t think they were a problem. In an early draft, I had Sam’s father David take a soccer ball to the abdomen and then act like he was dying as a result of a hernia. Hey, it was funny! But I realized it contributed to David being a completely unrealistic character and pulled readers out of the story. So, goodbye hospital bed in the living room. But I did keep the “I Love Lucy” scene with David and Shannon wheeling a sleeping kid out of their hotel room on a luggage cart. When editors talk about “killing your babies,” it’s these kind of tendencies they’re talking about.

I have characters and subplots that don’t go anywhere. Because I tend to toggle between “plotter” and “pantser” (I have a general outline for my main character, but I don’t plot out the subplots and supporting characters) this tends to be a huge problem in my first drafts. In THE SEESAW EFFECT, I have a wonderful supporting character, a stay-at-home mom who volunteers for DARE and searches all the kids coming into her house like she works for the TSA. It’s a great scene, but the scene and the character don’t go anywhere. I’m not ready to kill this baby yet… I just have to figure out how to better incorporate her in my heroine’s life. But if I can’t, she’s got to go. If you have a place for her in your novel, let me know. Her name is Gloria.

Anyone want to confess their recurring writer problems, and the solutions they’ve found? Please let me know in the comments section!

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