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.
Last week I did manage some more work on JACK & JILL, and I'm happy to say this week is off to a good start. I find I'm still going back over the same few chapters, even though I've edited my way through them a number of times already. They form a unit together, a series of scenes that are directly related to each other and which serve as the crucial mid-point of the story -- they build to it and end with it.
My effort to rediscover my joy of writing has helped immensely. I am really hearing the characters again, and sensing their concerns, and finding the scenes vivid and meaningful as I work on them, and as I reflect on them at other times. The changes I made last week and already this week have helped focus the scenes around the real issues.
It's another one of those vase situations that I've blogged about before. You know, you find a beautiful vase and bring it home and put it on your table and marvel at how beautiful it is, yet something seems odd. Somehow, it just doesn't work. Then you discover some minor detail, some way in which it clashes with other things in the room, even thought at first glance, and second glance, it seems to go so well with them. It's an excellent vase, but not the right one.
I'm finding that I need to find exactly the right vase here, the right set of motivations, the right set of issues. The characters need to struggle over just the right things, and arrive at just the right decisions for just the right reasons, or else this section of the story will not ultimately ring true. I'm now closer than ever, and hot on the trail of that ultimate fit.
I'm happy to have that familiar feeling of being back to work. I'll work hard to keep myself moving forward, now that I'm getting something serious accomplished again.
And, most importantly, I'm enjoying it.
Wishing everyone else progress and pleasure in their work,
Recently, I spent a little time reading excerpts from other writers' work which was posted online. This included both published and unpublished authors and works, ranging from nanovels to published books. It was very interesting. I found a link to a nanoer who has several excerpts of nanovels written over the past handful of years and I was quite impressed with how his work has evolved. His most recent novel reads quite well, and I found that it inspired me. I also found a small publisher of gay and lesbian fiction. Their site includes sample chapters and several of the excerpts I read there also inspired me.
I think what really moved me in all this was seeing how others are realizing their dream, and even with all the imperfections which I could find in the various texts, they had their own rhythm, their own flavor, their own excitement about them. The writers each had a vision, and they found a way to express that vision, and to get the job done. Since I've been in editing mode, it seems all I see are the imperfections. No work is ever "perfect". If getting started is half the battle, the other half is finishing what you set out to accomplish, warts and all. Readers won't notice the minor blemishes nearly as much as we do.
With all the stress in my life over the past few months, which has exceeded all the stress over the past few years put together, I have been very distracted and emotionally focused elsewhere. Reading these texts has reminded me of why I write: the JOI D'ECRIRE (joy of writing). I have never been one to believe in driving myself in die-hard fashion through thick and thin, writing seven days a week no matter what. I have always found when I sit down to write and have nothing to say, that whatever I write is ultimately garbage and ends up in the appropriate receptacle. For me, writing is a joy, and it should remain so. If I cannot find that joy, then I should not write. After all, in spite of the joy and the pleasure, writing is hard work, and why would anyone put themselves through that if they did not enjoy it? There are other, surer and easier ways to make a living.
I am seeking now to rekindle that joy, that excitement about stories, that spark. It is only through that joy that I would ever want to write. Writing has not become drudgery to me, but pushing on to complete a project without a sense of the joy of it cannot by definition lead to good writing, at least in my opinion, and, from what I have seen, in my work. Writing is not combat, fighting against the enemy (blank pages) with a winner-takes-all mentality. It is magic, an expression of love -- love of story, love of discovery, love of characters and places and times and events and the hope, which the Reader will share, that maybe somehow things will work out okay in the end.
A little humor helps.
Wishing each of us the joy in our writing which we require and our Readers deserve,
I finished generating feedback for another writer on a short story. I'll summarize my feedback in an email and send it back soon. That's not progress on my own writing, but it was a helpful exercise, not only because it provides someone else with feedback, but also the process of doing that helps me to see how I react to a text in detail, how the other writer's style compares with my own, what sort of editing changes I would make, or not, etc. Hard to explain, but suffice it to say that it was an enlightening experience, an opportunity for reflection.
Otherwise, earlier this week I did edit another one of my own chapters, which is encouraging.
I'm enjoying the Spring. Hope everyone else is as well.