Have the Guts to Gut Your Story

frustrated-writerWell, it’s November, which means almost everyone I know is doing NaNoWrMo–the challenge to write a 50 K novel in 30 days. At least, it seems that everyone I know is doing it, based on the way my social media is exploding with word counts and updates, as well as posts on NaNo. Not me. I applaud anyone who does NaNo, I love the idea of having that network of support pushing you to write some every day. It *is* the best way to complete a story. But it doesn’t work for me. I don’t mean the part about working on your story a little bit every day–that is good advice and the best way I know to stay connected–and committed–to the story at hand. No, for me, the hard part about NaNo is the stricture that you not go back and self-edit, that you move ahead with the story as written each day. No massaging of text or tweaking the previously written material.

This is so much the antithesis of how I write that the one and only time I attempted NaNo, it sent me in to my first (and worst) case of writer’s block. NOT the intention of the challenge, I suspect. For me there’s a fine balance between moving forward and making sure your story has a strong enough foundation to support it.

Siege_of_Peking,_Boxer_RebellionThat’s the problem I’m having with my current WIP. I’m a good enough carpenter to know when something is off-kilter and out of balance, and yet I’ve been struggling for the better part of the last six months to make this story work as written because Jeez Louise, it’s sitting at 45 K, which means it’s halfway done. To stop now and have to go back to pull down walls because the floor isn’t level? Argh! Surely that can be overlooked, right? No one will notice. To say I’m at the halfway point is arbitrary anyway. There’s no set story-length. All those ‘rules’ of story-telling were created by the publishing industry in order to create a cost-effective and marketable printed book. All bets are off in the digital era, right? I don’t need your stinkin’ rules!

Um, no. It doesn’t quite work that way. In fact, the reason I’ve been struggling with this story for so long now is I can feel that the balance is off. I know in my gut that it’s wrong and I can’t keep forging ahead in the hope that it will somehow come out right in the end. In fact, the further out you go from a crooked starting point, the worse the deviation from the correct path becomes. And the last thing I want to do is pull down an entire house because there’s a serious crack in the foundation. Much better to solve the problem now, even if it means gutting a good bit of the existing work.

Yeah. Because I’m looking at having to cut about 15 K of extraneous story to get back to the structure of the thing and make it right. And ouch. That hurts. It hurts because some of those scenes are fun, and we all need fun in our lives. It hurts because we’ve been trained to think of word counts as the ultimate sign of a day’s progress, and yikes–this is like back-tracking several weeks for me.

But word counts are NOT the end-all and be-all of writing. To strain the metaphor further, at the end of the construction, what we want is a solid, sturdily-built house that will hold up for the next thirty or forty years–longer if we’re really lucky. And while the ‘rules’ of storytelling should be somewhat fluid, in that we shouldn’t wed ourselves to formulaic guidelines simply because that’s how it has always been done, most of us recognize when a story is off-balance. We know it because we read a LOT and we know what feels right. We know the difference between good storytelling and bad. You shouldn’t ignore that inner writer’s instinct that tells you when something isn’t working.

crumpleI’m not talking about that point in the story (and we all reach it) where you’re convinced you’re holding a sack of crap and nothing in the universe can transmute it into anything else. For me, that’s usually the 3/4 mark of any story, the point at which the writing becomes hard, when I’m certain I’m an idiot and there’s no hope for the story. No. I’m not talking about that. We need to learn our own writing cycles and when to ignore the routine run-of-the-mill crippling self-doubt. This is far more subtle. It’s sensing that an engine is running at less-than-optimum efficiency. It’s noticing that the floor is warped and things tend to roll to the right. It’s the certain knowledge that if you put a level to your story, the bubble wouldn’t be in the center.

A shoddy contractor would be tempted to hide this fact before it became apparent to everyone else. That’s a mistake. Because if it is apparent to you as the author, it sure as hell will be apparent to the reader. The longer you plug away at an inherently flawed story without fixing the underlying problem, the harder the edits will be too. And that, in a nutshell, is my problem with NaNo. Sometimes it’s smarter to stop what you’re doing and fix the problem before you cover it up with brilliant work that will only have to be torn down again. It’s easier to write a clean copy the first time than to repair a damaged one.

So don’t feel bad if NaNo is not for you. And don’t be afraid to follow your gut instincts and gut a story that isn’t working out. In the end, the revised story will be the better for your efforts. You’ll see.

In other news, Truth and Consequences was listed as an October Recommended Read by Prism Book Alliance, and there’s a giveaway going on at their page. Truth and Consequences has received stellar reviews from Rainbow Book Reviews and the Paranormal Romance Guild, among others, which just makes my heart sing.

Looking ahead to next month, The Boys of Summer will be re-released as a revised version Dec 21, so Merry Christmas to everyone!

 

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