You guys. I am so excited. I can hardly contain myself. Something wonderful happened this morning and I have to drop what I’m doing to tell you about it:
I found out there’s something dreadfully wrong with the climax of my book and that I have to completely re-write it.
- It lacks tension
- There’s nothing at stake
- We already know the outcome
- Everyone–all my betas AND Carey–wants to stop reading right before the exciting stuff happens
- The exciting stuff isn’t all that exciting
Carey got up early* to tell me all about it this morning, so instead of working on edits in my book, I listened to him elucidate all the reasons why, ultimately, my book fails.
Isn’t that great? Doesn’t that just make you feel all squishy and wonderful inside?
Yes, I’m serious. No, I’m not completely insane (well, maybe, but that’s another topic entirely). Let me explain.
I woke up this morning reeeeaaaaally not wanting to write in my book. My alarm went off at 5am like it does most mornings, and I turned it off. Sadly for me, I accidentally hit snooze, so it went off again at 5:08. Sigh. I got up, and then procrastinated for nearly an hour before opening my book file.
I’m working on edits on chapter twenty and following. Chapter twenty is where everyone–Carey and all of my betas, among those who basically like the book, stopped reading. (Not everyone who received an early copy of my book loved it–those who didn’t, stopped reading much sooner, per my instructions–and I thank them for their honesty. Luckily, enough of them did love it that I have faith that it’s basically a good book. With problems. Obviously.)
When the first reader (Carey) stopped reading at this point, I assumed he just got busy. He’d pick it up again soon, I figured, and wouldn’t be able to put it down until he was done.
He didn’t finish the book for almost six months.
Maybe a fluke?
Except that the book had gone out, by this time, to several other readers and they all said variations on the same thing: “I started wanting the book to wrap up around chapter 20.” “I’m so sorry, I got busy and haven’t finished the book–I got to chapter 20.” “I’m at chapter 20 and I’ve got to take a break. I’ll come back to it!” The kids stopped asking me to read it aloud to them right around… chapter 20.
Maybe not a fluke.
So, chapter 20 is what I was slated to start on today, and I had no idea what to do. I thought maybe I could just cut a bunch out, make it short so people wouldn’t feel so burdened by having to read it.
I cut 2,000 words before I realized the stupidity of that approach. I mean, I’m not knocking brevity, but I don’t want people who read my novel to finish it by giving themselves pep talks: “Hey, at least it’s not that much longer, man. Keep trudging! We’re almost there!”
I want the reader to be sorry it’s over. To wish it were longer, not shorter. To sit in stunned silence staring at that last page and thinking, “Oh my gosh. That… was… amazing. I can’t believe it’s over.” I want the reader, when he has recovered from his shock, to get on Facebook and post links to my book on Amazon. I want the reader to post memes.
So I sat and stared at my screen, with no clue how to accomplish this end.
Then I distracted myself with blog stats, and aimlessly Googling “What is wrong with my book?” (Which, by the way, yielded this, which is a really raw and beautiful read and also thoroughly depressing for someone who is recently convinced her book sucks, so you know, check it out…?)
Google, by the way, is a miracle-worker. Google helps with research, sure, but Google is so much more. Google is like the great Problem Solver. Sometimes Google helps me through my depressions (omg, Google is all-knowing, all-seeing, benevolent, and starts with the letters G-o… I think I’m having an epiphany… no time for epiphanies right now, crazy brain. Stop it!).
One of the links Godgle (I just invented that word. I’m a genius) served up was to a Writer’s Digest article that turned out to be a useless piece of twaddle, but it had the word “tension” in it, so it wasn’t a totally wasted click.
And “tension,” it turns out, is exactly the word I needed to hear.
There’s no tension in chapter 19, chapter 20, or most of the following chapters of my book, until the very end, and even that tension is weak and un-compelling. The problem? I suddenly go soft on my characters. I let nice things happen to them. They get comfortable.
This is all very nice and fuzzy for them, but not very interesting for the reader. If you’re a writer, you don’t get to play Mrs. Nice Guy. You can’t afford to.
This insight was very exciting. I did as any considerate person would do under the circumstances, and didn’t wait another moment to share my insight. I ran into the bedroom, switched the lights on, and shouted at Carey through the protective shield his arms had inexplicably formed over his eyes:
“I think I have to leave someone behind, so there’s more tension!”
Carey is something of a miracle to me. He doesn’t always follow my sudden non sequitur leaps but when he does, it’s 5:45am and the overhead light is burning his eyes out. “In the lab?” he said.
“In the lab. Like Hedi or somebody.”
He smiles wryly, “It wouldn’t exactly raise my tension if you left Hedi behind.” He doesn’t exactly like Hedi.
“But you’re right about the tension. It’s not there.”
And then he proceeded to tell me all the reasons why not.
No, really. Awesome. You see, understanding what is wrong with it, in detail, is how we figure out how to make it better. And we did.
We came up with two critical changes I can make to ratchet up the tension without leaving Hedi behind. Which is awesome because I happen to like Hedi (take that). Also, leaving her behind would require massive re-writes, so, yeah.
It’s not the first time Carey’s brought my attention to glaring problems in my book. Because of him, I had to completely rewrite every single chapter containing my main character, seeing as how the main character sucked. It took a long time and is one of the primary reasons the book has taken almost a whole year to get to this point. It’s also one of the primary reasons the book is as good as it is. Carey’s insight made my book awesomer.
This time, the changes are mostly just rearranging things so that the reader finds things out in a different order. So they’re left wondering about things they actually care about. These changes won’t be all that time-consuming.
Oh, who are we kidding. There will be massive re-writing. But we’re all pretending, right now, that this is a minor thing. That this will just take a few days. WE ARE ALL PRETENDING THIS RIGHT NOW.
It will actually take several weeks, maybe months…
And when I’m done making these little, bitty changes, the ending is going to explode like a bomb. The sort of bomb that makes readers go, “Oh, wow. Holy crap. That was good. I want moar.” And then they will beg for it to be made into a movie, loudly and persistently until it actually happens, and I will live happily ever after as a wealthy full-time novelist writing Big Important Books.
They will post memes.
Or, if that doesn’t happen (but I’m sure it will), at least my book will be good. The best I can make it. Which is really all any of us can do.
So of course I’m excited. I have a partner who loves my book, and clearly sees what’s wrong with it. Who is willing to tell me what’s wrong with it, in detail, fearlessly and without apology.
This is a priceless gift.
Omg. It needs a meme.
*In this context, “got up early” means, “was unjustly awakened before he was ready and then worked with me even though he had other Big Important Things to do.” I love my husband.