Six impossible things

One of those weeks

As you may recall, dear reader, in our last exciting episode on Wednesday morning I stated categorically that I wouldn’t be doing NaNoWriMo this year for a lot of good reasons, including house guests, Thanksgiving, and general life workload. November-December are supposed to be slow months for work, because of all the holiday busy-ness.

I should know better than to say things like that out loud where the Universe can hear me.

By noon on Wednesday, it was clear that my writing had hit what I refer to as “a sticky bit.” Things were not proceeding well, or, indeed, at all. I did not make my word quota on Wednesday, and I went to bed grumpy.

Thursday morning, while walking and talking with Beth-my-exercise-buddy, I had an unpleasant epiphany: the last couple of chapters are all wrong. One of the returning characters was working spells that were seriously overpowered for his supposed level of ability, among other things. That meant one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half chapters needed some serious rewriting.

I spent Thursday pondering options. I did not make my word count that day, either.

Friday morning, I had an even more unpleasant epiphany: not only was there a whole lot wrong with the particular returning character’s behavior and abilities, the series of events in the main plot thread were in the wrong order. The structure of the opening chapters was all wrong.

After another two days of pondering, I have realized that I have to scrape the ms. back to Chapter One, Paragraph Three, and essentially start over. This means that my word count for the week is into five figures, and not the low five figures, either, and I am not a happy camper. It also means that I get to spend tomorrow finishing up a redrawn plot outline, and November trying to catch up to where I’m supposed to be if I hadn’t gone so wrong in the first place.

Coincidentally, this is going to involve writing about 50,000 words in the month of November, houseguests notwithstanding.

I did not bring this up in order to whine about it (whining about it is merely a happy side effect, from my point of view). I brought it up so I could explain how I went wrong and maybe someone else can learn from my mistakes.

When I started work on this book, I had a magical critter which was new to my characters, and which they were trying to investigate (it poses a considerable threat). Lots of offstage characters came to help out, with varying degrees of success, but only three of them rated scenes actually showing them working on the critter in the lab. Call the outside helpers Jack, Sue, and Mary. Each of them has a different kind of magic; each of them has a different level of magical power and skill.

In the soon-to-be-dumped draft, Mary’s scene came first, then Sue’s, then Jack’s. This was plausible given the chronology and travel distances I’m working with, but there’s no deep structure behind it. Upon consideration it seems to me that I put them in that order because I was really looking forward to writing about Mary and Sue, so I did them first. It was fun, but the result just isn’t working the way I need it to.

The problem is that Jack is the least powerful and least skilled of the magicians; Sue is the most powerful. But because I had Jack’s scene come last, that was where certain vital information came out (see “character was overpowered,” above). This does not display Sue’s abilities to advantage; it also weakens her motivation for taking some plot-critical actions (because she doesn’t have that key information yet). In addition, it makes Jack look a whole lot more important to the central storyline than I expect him to be.

I’m still considering the most desirable fix for all this. This sequence of events needs to build to a point that will provide enough plot-energy (information, in this case) to launch the next stage of my story. That means stacking the most powerful magician (Sue) with the most critical information at the end of the sequence, in order to get the most bang from the scene. So Sue’s scene should come last.

I can make an argument either way for Mary and Jack, because they’re each important to a different subplot, and the subplots have different weights; also, they’re doing different types of magic. If I want to build the opening strictly on the basis of magical power and skill, then the order should be Jack-Mary-Sue; if I’m going more by the increasing relevance and importance of each character (and his/her subplot) to my central character, then Mary should come before Jack.

Either way I do it, I’m going to have to rework everything from Paragraph 3 on, because all the other scenes in those chapters are setting up for things, or reacting to things, in ways that will change significantly when the order of the Sue, Mary, and Jack scenes changes.

This is what comes of plunging in and tearing off without thinking things through (at least, this is what comes of it when I do it. Some people are quite successful at working like this on a regular basis. At the moment, I don’t want to hear about them, though).

11 Comments
  1. I’ve been there and done that. I fully expect to have to do that sort of thing many times in the future.

    I hope it goes well.

  2. Good luck with the re-write and if your house guests know you at all, I’m sure they will understand your lack of attention to them from time to time. 😀 Here’s hoping they don’t give you any crap for doing your job.

  3. I’ve found that, when given three chores, knocking out the easiest one first gives me a running start and inflates my ego so I have more time and energy to work out the more difficult two. Laziness helps, sometimes. 🙂

  4. That sounds really dreadful. I hope the rewrite goes faster than you expected.

  5. Congratulations on finding out you’ve done it wrong while you can still do something about it.

    You, too, can be a NaNo rebel. (I’m 80K into my WIP – I shall *so* not put it aside for November.)

    • Thank you all.

      Deborah – I’ve been here before, too; the last time, I had to scrape back fourteen chapters. Believe me, this is an improvement! However much I grumble.

      Anju – It’s more annoying than dreadful, really. It’s just one of those things. I could perhaps leave it as it is and keep going, but I wouldn’t be happy with it, and experience leads me to believe that forcing myself to continue will only lead to a) further slowing of progress as my backbrain rebells and b) the eventual necessity of pitching even MORE chapters. Finding it early is a Good Thing.

      Green_knight – Theoretically, I could still do something about it right up through page proofs, if I were foolish enough to let it get that far, but I get what you mean. I’m actually quite pleased to have discovered the problem so fast; I really don’t want to go through another round of deadline-missing, the way I did with the last book, and not noticing something like this is practically a recipe for deadline-missing.

  6. Ow, ow, ow. Best wishes with the reconstruction.

    I am not one of those people who can plunge in from a standing start and get it all right, either. Unfortunately, I am also not one of those people whose plans long survive contact with the enem– er, the characters. Or their situation. Or their situation’s unfolding logic. So there’s no likely escape from scrape-back-and-build-sounder, for any novel-sized story I write.

    The unanticipated version of this is… very familiar, and very ych. My most definite sympathies!

  7. One of my writer friends calls her first draft the “exploratory draft” – it makes it much easier to accept when you have to go back several chapters. Irritating, but not quite so annoying.

    It’s funny how names change things, eh?

  8. I’m actually quite pleased to have discovered the problem so fast

    I would say that’s the single most important way in which my writing has sped up over the years – I notice when I’m _starting_ to go wrong rather than 10K later, and I’m finding solutions more easily – a couple of days instead of months. OTOH, I’ve learnt to never, ever press on when I am feeling uncomfortable, because there’s always a reason, and piling on another 5K on bad foundations just makes it harder to disentangle.

  9. (shrug) you’re more successful than I am at it. That is a hard predicament, isn’t it! oh dear. I hope you get the right result . . . I guess that the question is jack-mary-sue or mary-jack-sue. I would think that importance to the story is more important than levels of power . . . though it really depends . . And I understand that. I never get any of my own writing done when on breaks. (sigh) I wish you the best of luck! You can do it! 🙂

  10. I wrote my first *novel* ever through NaNoWriMo this year!!! I wrote my first sentence on Nov. 5th and went from there!

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