So I started my NaNoWriMo project, and quickly sailed through the first 20K words. As always. And then I hit the 20K wall. As always. Then, I decided it was time to take the story to the expert, my muse, the smartest man I know: my husband. He read the first 100 pages of my old draft (from last spring). We hashed it out, and he told me what I already should’ve known and kind of knew and didn’t want to admit.
My story had a lame plot.
The characters? Sparkly. The concept? Dynamite. The setting? Really cool. The plot? Muddled and uninspiring and lame.
Sigh. He was so right. I hated that he was right because this book was something I’d put a lot, lot, lot of time into. This, in fact, was about my 7th rewrite. Not from the ground up, mind you, but working with the same characters, concept and setting…and plot. Every time I’d rewrite I’d wonder, “Uh, why is this STILL not working?” Because it wasn’t.
It made me think back on a book I’ve been slowly going through, written by Larry Brooks, who I’d met a couple of years ago at the ANWA Conference in Phoenix. His book is called Story Engineering, and in it he talks about the six things that make a story work. I had five. I was missing #6. Plot.
So. So. Sad.
And I finally, as I stood ready to take a swan dive off that 20K word wall last week, was humbled enough to let that sink in. While we were on a family outing to the river to throw rocks –Honestly, that’s a fun family outing. We love throwing rocks. Last month we threw rocks off a mountain.–we talked a little about possible changes to the plot and came up with something drastic. Well, I thought it was drastic. It would involve cutting out about fifteen characters. (Is this a tipoff that the plot was messy?) It would change all the motivations (and the ages) of the remaining characters. It would bring in the Nazis and throw out the muddled mess. It looked like…work. Intense work. But probably the right thing to do.
Then a big thing happened. An author friend had also given up her entire weekend and read my last full draft (with the old plot). Bless her heart! And she called and said she loved it–the characters, the setting, the concept, the dialogue, all just blew her away. Publish immediately.
I was so relieved. Then I asked her about the plot. “Oh, there were some parts that are maybe a little hard to follow, but I think you finally tied it all together in the end.”
Bingo. Less enthusiastic. I told her my husband’s assessment (which was diametrically opposed to her.) She, bless her, said he was up a tree. He didn’t “get” me. And in a way she was right. But that wasn’t good. I wanted him to get me, and everyone else to get me. She said to ignore him. I wanted so badly to believe her.
This left me mightily confused. I was asking that question of Jack Nicholson as The Joker, “Who do you trust?” But I had on less pancake makeup.
So I called yet another author friend. She’d been going through similar edits and finally had had a breakthrough. She said she’d also give my old draft a read this week. Bless HER heart.
But as soon as I got off the phone with her, my original friend called back. I told her I was still on the fence, and asked if I could just tell her the beginning of the outline Gary and I had come up with. I did. She was silent for a bit.
“Oh, I hate to tell you this,” she said, “and I am married to that old book. But, to be honest, I like this better. Much better.”
Suddenly, the clouds parted.
I knew exactly what I had to do.
Since then, I’ve written 14K on that new draft. It was a super busy weekend, so I got nothing done then, but I’ve been on fire otherwise. It’s flowing pretty well, and since I already know these characters, I know how they will react in these new (less muddled) situations. It’s not too horrid. Granted, I’m only at 14K and haven’t hit that 20K wall yet. Maybe I won’t. (Ha ha.)
But I’m left with a question of my integrity. How do I measure word count for NaNoWriMo? Do I have to adjust my word count back down to 14K now? Or can I add the stuff I’m going to scrap from that proverbial “wrong turn at Albuquerque?” If I hadn’t made that wrong turn, I never would have gotten on the right road, I am pretty sure of that. But do the words only count from the actual draft that will become The Book?
I don’t want to be a cheater. And if it makes me “lose” NaNoWriMo, so be it. I will still come out a winner, since I’ll finally be on the track of the book I have been TRYING to write for two entire years.
Can the NaNo police, or someone with a good sense of right and wrong please advise me? I look forward to your counsel.
Thank you. And now, to the manuscript.