What I've Done - Linkin Park. Youtube won't let me embed this video, so I'm linking to it instead. It's not actually related to my post at all, except that I love this song, so I'm sharing.
(Some of you have heard parts of this before, but I have to put it all in one place. Also, I apologize in advance for the long post).
A year ago I had a novel I'd written. I'd revised it a few times, and I'd even queried it, and nothing. Not a single nibble. I decided I would tear it apart and rewrite it. I did. I cut out more than half of what was there and replaced it with all new and improved story.
I swore that it would be the last time I did such a big revision on that story. I loved it. I adored it. But it was devouring my writing time and consuming my soul.
So I rewrote it, and I queried it again. And nothing. Not a single nibble. Actually, that's not true. I pitched it at a writers' conference, and the very awesome agent requested a partial. So I squeed and I sent her the first 30 pages. And a little later got a note back that more or less said 'this is a fascinating concept, but I just didn't fall in love with it.'
*sigh*. So in January, I shelved the novel. I stuck it in a drawer and said "I'm done with you. I love you, but it's time I concentrated my writing energy on other things." Those other things were two novels I wrote last November for NaNoWriMo. They were also two stories I'd been wanting to write for a very long time. Which may be the only reason I managed both of them in a month.
In January I pulled them both back out. I did some hard core trimming on one. I cut it from 75k words down to 40k. I polished it until it shone, and it now sits in the slushpile of three ebook publishers who have strong romance markets and don't mind novellas. It sits, and it hopes to be noticed.
The other was kind of a sequel to the book I had shelved. Except that the two timelines were concurrent. I sent it to my awesome and amazing alpha reader (who I've just now decided to call that, because she reads my stuff as I write and always has the most encouraging feedback and like my other CP's is brilliant to bounce ideas off). She said something along the lines of 'would you consider combining these two stories?'
This is where things get kind of muddled, but I'll try and make it make sense. There was a lot of appeal in that idea. It meant I could have an excuse to ressurect that shelved story I swore I'd never touch again. It meant I could requery it, because now I'd have two POV characters, and I could just spin it as the new guy's story. It meant I didn't have to worry about word count(because I always have to worry about word count and now I could take two stories I struggled to make 75k words each, and turn them into a single 100k word story without a problem).
So I merged the two stories, and made them into one massive, epic story. And it was epic. Kind of like this blog post is becoming.
And then I disovered some of the flaws with merging two stories, regardless of how intricately intertwinted their storylines were to begin with. Some of the basic issues I ran into:
- Pacing was obliterated. That first 1/3 or so of the story that is meant to be Act 1? became the first 1/2 or so because I merged two openings/character introductions
- There were two main characters. Duh, right? Except they had two separate plots and arcs and storylines that only occasionally intersected.
- There were two climaxes to the story. Because her story ended and then his did.
- This was never actually the second character's story.
The last one is what this whole revelation is all about. Because I had queried so many times with the old story, I figured I had worn out my welcome with the old character's query and opening chapter. So the new character got to open the story and be the focus of the query.
That way no one would notice it was the same story, right?
Except everyone who read it suggested I put the old first chapter back. And I said "I can't. Agents have read that. They didn't like it."
I assume. No one ever actually told me that.
And then someone finished the entire story. The whole new beast. And she sent me some fantastic feedback. (and then someone else finished too, and sent me more brilliant feedback, and I swooned).
But one of the big things she said that really stuck with me was (I'm paraphrasing) that it didn't matter how I tried to spin it, this wasn't the second character's story, it was still the original character's story. And she'd never read the original. She had no knowledge of what she was getting into when I handed her the epic monstrosity.
It only took me 4 years, but I finally figured out what the story actually needed. I'm just hoping I've learned something from this experience, and none of my other stories drag out that long. It's looking promising so far.
This entire experience has taught me a lot of things. Some of them are standard stuff that most of us in the query trenches hear all the time, but it's really been driven home now, and others just have to do with the craft of writing in general, or at least how I approach it.
- Don't query before you're ready. Don't try and convince yourself that you only have a few more edits, when you know you may have months of revisions ahead of you. I've resigned myself to the fact I can't query agents who have already seen this in its previous unpolished forms. That's not a short list.
- If the main plot can't be summarized, it may be too complex. Give it a try. Can you name your antagonist, protagonist, goal, motivation, conflict and stakes just like that? As in: Ronnie is an angel hearing voices, and one of them wants control of her body. If she can't figure out why the haunting voice is there and how to get rid of it, she'll spend the rest of eternity in the back of her head watching someone else use her to destroy Elysium and Earth. (I wrote that in about thirty seconds. Until a week ago, I'd never been able to pick out those distinct elements with this story. Also, until I wrote that just now, I would have told anyone who asked that Loki was my antagonist...turns out he's not.)
- I'm too stubborn for my own good and don't know when to walk away. But in my defense, I've written another novel this year and plotted a third, and they're next on my list for writing and revisions and I don't plan on either of them taking even a year, let alone four.
- There's always a solution. The question is - are you willing to do what it takes to implement it, and is it worth it?
So that's the thing to ponder for the day. Can you step back enough to see what the real solution is, are you willing to do what it takes to implment it, and is it worth it?