Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Coz we got a great big convoy...

I have a problem. No, not that one. Another one. Just one hour into editing Quackenbush last night, and I had to put the manuscript aside. Out came the notebook, and I tried to resolve the issue I realised had been there from very early on.

There's a gaping hole, not so much in the plot, but in the motivations of one set of characters. Throughout the story, they set themselves against both our heroes and the villains, trying to foil them. I feel, although I could be wrong, that they are crucial to the pace and tension, certainly in the second half of the book. And while there are vague reasons why they do what they do, I had a moment of dawning realisation - or, as Homer would put, the moment of 'Doh!' - and know, deep inside, that I could drive a convoy of huge monster trucks through their motivational holes.
How serious is it? Pretty. It's making it bloody difficult to focus on the job at hand, which is editing.

Yet I don't think it's terminal. There must be solutions that just haven't come to mind, but it's damn frustrating. Fortunately, there is much that can be done while I wait for this issue to resolve itself in my mind. And while the clock may be ticking, I also know it's not something I can rush. It has to feel right, it has to feel like a natural progression, otherwise I won't believe in the motivation, and I might as well give the manuscript to the kids to make paper airplanes (assuming they haven't nicked it already).

On the plus side, I was pleasantly surprised after that first hour of reading. Sure, there are some clunky sections which need a damn good polish, but, after more than a year away from the manuscript, it was a relief to find that there are some real nuggets in there.

Ultimately, the whole process just reinforces that sound piece of advice given to unpublished writers, but which applies equally well to all writers - once you've finished your first draft, put it to one side. For as long as possible. A few months minimum, six months if you can manage it. Then go back and read it with fresh eyes. It might be cliched, but you won't find a more worthwhile piece of advice in publishing.

Of course, that time apart doesn't magically fill holes that you'd forgotten were there. But at least you're coming at it from as neutral a perspective as you're going to get inside that mind of yours.


Kate said...

Character motivation - ah yes, I had that problem with my last novel - I just hadn't thought them through!

One thing I found helped when I started the WIP was to jot down the story arc for each of my main charatcers - and even some of the minor ones. I soon spotted when they didn't have aproper motivation, and I also found that this helped my plot fall into place around them. I've always struggled with plotting so I found this approach a bit of an epiphany.

Give yourself some thinking time - the answer will come :-)

John Quirk said...

Thanks, Kate. You're right about jotting down arcs - they do help considerably.

It's frustrating - I hadn't realised just how crucial to the story the motivation of one character is, and she's not even involved to a great deal. But without her having a reason for doing what she is doing, the thing falls apart.

I'm a great believer in 'interviewing' your characters - as if you're a journalist doing a profile on them, ask the questions and then get yourself inside the head of the character. The answers can be somewhat enlightening!

Will be attempting this in the foreseeable...

Ady Hall said...


SOme time in a quiet pub with like-minded peeps will be a great help to ya. In fact, I could do with a session for Imp!

A spitball brainstormer day or night should be on the cards :)