I have been working steadily on the editing of JACK & JILL. I'm now thoroughly immersed in the detail of the first half of the story. I have gone through again and again with the cluster of chapters that mark the mid-point. Each time I make things better and better. I even went back a few additional chapters, just to see what else I could tweak, and sure enough I found a few things. Seeing that, I went all the way back to the beginning again and worked through yet another time, over stuff that had pretty well been edited to a final shine already. Just a few things here or there, but each additional change has helped tighten and improve.
What has emerged from all this work has been a new way to handle a key, pivotal character, who is introduced in this cluster of chapters that has proved so problematic. I cast him in a new light, borrowing from what I know comes later, seeding it in much earlier, right from the start. Gee, when we write first drafts, we don't have it all figured out from the get-go, do we? Hence this character evolved a bit in how I handled him, and so there is room to alter how he first appears, in order to bring it in line with the take on things that I ended up with after completing the first draft. It's working wonders.
The most essential thing, as I blogged about recently, has been to make sure the scenes are true to the characters. The whole story depends upon the thoughts and reactions of the characters. The story must be character-driven. That is, it must propel itself forward based not on external plot events, but the thoughts and reactions of the characters to their circumstances, and their efforts to move toward an outcome they desire. It's the horse before the cart, not the other way around. Some stories fail because plot takes precedence, and it always shows. If you follow the characters through the maze of events you have created for them, they will choose the path that makes the most sense for them, and it will ring true.
Anyway, sometimes I love what I've written and sometimes I hate it, but mostly I think it's good, and some of it is excellent in terms of clarity, conciseness, motivation, a constant forward momentum. Overall it's good, at least to my satisfaction. Certainly I will be quite pleased to send this manuscript out once finished, based on reasonable expectations I have about its quality as a polished final draft.
The intense editing that this first half has received over time has done wonders to tighten it. With my present understanding of the key characters, and knowing what lies in store for them, I feel very much more confident now in proceeding into the second half, albeit gradually and with much revision until they are clearly on their way. This transition is so important because it changes the story direction and moves it toward the ending, although the Reader won't see what lies so far down the road, just what it seems lies so far down the road. That's good, keeps the story from being too predictable.
Another thing I've noticed is how much more strongly I now handle the issues surrounding magic. When I first started writing fantasy, which was only a couple of years ago with THE REFLECTING STONE, a novel that remains in progress after two complete drafts, it was a bit awkward for me. I had read fantasy stories and seen the movies made from them, as well as the sagas and epics the genre draws from historically. The idea of a fantasy story, or a story with fantastic elements, including magic, was nothing new to me and something I was quite comfortable with as a reader (or viewer). However, to actually sit down and write one was another matter entirely. I felt so self-conscious about it at first. After two years of work, I am now so much more comfortable with the genre and magic in particular, which is an essential element in my stories. I'm getting much better at utilizing it as an essential element, and am having spontaneous ideas for new novels, new stories which are quite different from anything else I had ever imagined writing. I see that as a sign of growth, my new ability to explore and create within this genre. A good sign, to be sure.
Nonetheless, I am keeping my focus on JACK & JILL to finish it as quickly as I can, whenever that will ultimately prove to be, but hopefully within a couple of months, given the slow and tedious rate of the editing. I'm not concerned -- seeing the quality of the work that is resulting from this editing, I'm quite pleased to continue trudging along. The story is fun and meaningful, and anything I don't like -- well, I'm making it better day by day.