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Around chapter six of my adventure in writing my first novel, it became clear I had not started my story in the right place and time. My MC has developed quite a bit, thanks to lessons I have learned along the way, and I can see I have made a miss-step or two... or three... okay, way north of a dozen.... in introducing the reader to my little world. While I have resisted rewriting the first chapters in favor of plugging away at the first draft, I could add at least three chapters to the beginning that would make the book flow better.
When I first started on this journey, my process began with an outiline. I thought the plot and character arcs and theme were pretty well established, and I was ready to flesh it out with a first draft. But I had not thought my story all the way through. I discovered this during a conversation wtih my hubby, who is far from a gentle critic. I was telling him about a plot problem, and he asked some basic questions I hadn't even considered. Along with a not unfamiliar nod to my hubby's intellect and my own lack of discernment, the discussion helped me take a step back from the story and begin to think more as a reader would. How can I help them attach to the story and characters right in the first chapter? When I make some progress on that, it'll be another lesson to share.
Meantime, back to the books to see what an expert says about fixing the problem at hand. Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat," Chapter 7, presents basic problems with a script (book) and how to work through them. My particular issue is shared on page 155, in what Snyder calls "Take a Step Back."
To paraphrase and summarize, when your writing just isn't coming alive, seems flat - or plain isn't working, sometimes you've got to take a step of so back in time and action to find the inciting incident for conflict, growth or change, that will make your story "pop." Make that the beginning point. Some indicators you may have to move your beginning point back are: needing too much backstory in the narrative; little of no change in your MC or other characters - lack of conflict or growth; and if by the end of the book, you still haven't told the whole (or real) story.
Better to attend to this problem now, methinks, rather than waiting until the end of the first draft. By going back in now I gain a better grasp of incidental characters that pepper the text, and the beginning chapter will introduce not only the MCs, but the problems that will unfold throughout the book.
No more having to be creative in disguising the backstory so it slips in without boring the reader. Hmmmm. That last sentence indicates I am still such a baby in writing fiction. On the bright side, now that I see how I was missing the point (again!) of some of the lessons I've been studying, I am so glad I am writing a "real book" in order to learn how to write! The adage "Writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration" is so true.
Writing is something I HAVE to do, like eating and sleeping and breathing. There are days I think this little book is only an exercise for learning how to write. Then there are days when it excites me because there is a story unfolding. The longer I work on it, poke and prod and carve and pinch it like a lump of clay, the more it begins to be interesting. And on a really good day, I start to imagine sequels and prequels that must be written after I get this one done. I am falling in love with the characters and their world!
Yes, I have likely gone around the bend, fallen off the truck, got a screw loose. So what else is new? Doesn't someone have to be a bit crazy to want to live a life making up stories?