The Glaring Problem With My Book

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.

bookfession1

April-25-2013-22-42-38-books

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.

Well. Crap.

“But you’re right about the tension. It’s not there.”

Well. Crap.

And then he proceeded to tell me all the reasons why not.

Well. Awesome.

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.

hangover

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.

images (1)

*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.

Timelines and Climaxes

Yesterday I took the keys to Mom’s Cruiser, a box of snack bars, two kids–Eli, age 9; Everett, age 5–and headed down the rutted, twisting road to the bottom of the 9500-foot-elevation “hill” atop which my parents live. We drove into Florissant with $40 in cash and a thirst for adventure.

We came back with one (1) smoky quartz piece, and twenty-seven (27) or so flakes of paper shale bearing the impressions of insects, flower buds, seeds, and leaves that lived and died 35 million years ago.

Fossil Hunting

None of this has anything to do with my novel or progress thereon right now, and neither do any of the six other entries I’ve started and abandoned in the past day here. It’s just too hard. The work is hard, writing about the work is hard. But here we go. Here is what I’m doing:

  • Working on a detailed timeline. In Excel. So help me.
  • Trying to get two characters to reunite with each other in the same place at the same time, instead of three months apart as their current timelines show them doing.
  • Trying to get seven (7) POV characters to meet at the same time in the same place for the climax without ruining any of their individual timelines.
  • Trying to figure out why each of those seven (7) POV characters even wants to be there for goodness sake.
  • And what each of them is doing during the climax.
  • And what each of them is thinking during the climax.
  • And then, finally, from whose point of view the climax will actually be told.
  • And also exactly how I feel about the fact that today, one of the search engine phrases that led to my blog was “sobbing after climax.”
  • And wondering whether I really want to keep writing about climaxes or not.
  • And definitely wondering whether I really want to keep writing climaxes or not.

But of course I have to. Writing them because I have to finish my book. Writing about them because reaching climax is hard for me. (I’ll let you know when Google searches for “Why is reaching climax hard for me” start leading to my blog. It will be a proud moment, surely. (I apologize to anyone who has arrived via that search. This is not the place to get that kind of help. But if you’re writing a book, now, come on in. We can help with that. Or at least empathize with how hard it is.))

So I just keep getting up an hour early and plugging. I thought I’d be done with my second draft next week, but now it looks more like next month or next year or maybe next decade.

Possibly by the time I’m done, the mosquito that ended up smashed between two pages of my first draft will be as old as the fossils in our paper shale fragments.

If anyone has tips, ideas, or inspiration for getting through this last part of the second draft… please. Share. I’d like to finish sometime this millennium.

Leaf fossil

The End of the World As We Know It

Well, it’s done. Not the whole book, just yet. But the climax. I wrote it. And, it turns out, the climax is about three scenes from the end so… I’ll have a draft in roughly three days. I’ll have a draft in three days.

This would be way more exhilarating if my characters hadn’t just royally screwed every freakin thing up for themselves and the rest of the world. And they were so close–so close–to a happily ever after ending, too. After writing their catastrophe, I left the room for tissues and came back blowing my nose, which is when Carey noticed that I was sobbing. “What’s wrong?” He didn’t know whether to congratulate me or console me. I’m not sure either.

Writing is easy. Just sit down and open a vein.

The writing is pretty crappy, to be honest. But the emotion is there. The idea. Thanks, Jaimie, for encouraging me that that is enough for now. It is salvageable because I believe in it. And I do.

Another trusted writing mentor told me last week to bring it in under 90k max. This piece of feedback stopped several new story lines in their tracks and got me refocused on getting to the climax. Those other started story lines will be removed in revisions and probably end up in Book Two. Letting them go from this book freed me to bring the whole thing in for a landing. A bumpy, horrifying, catastrophic landing.

I feel pretty much exactly like the boy in this video. All of it, all at once.

P.S. The “writing is easy etc.” quote is variously attributed to many different authors in many forms. That’s why there’s no citation, even though the thought is not mine originally.

Where Are the Elves When You Need Them?

I wrote a scene in my climax today.  It sucks.

Have I spent so much time on it I’m sick of it? Or is it really that bad, that much of a let-down? Shall I go on telling it like I have been, or scrap it and start over from a new point of view? Or is the entire concept so completely screwed I might as well start the whole book from scratch?

This latter thought, I suspect, is yet another trick of my brain to convince me not to finish the darn thing.

When I started this novel the whole point was not to get published. It was simply to prove to myself that I could finish something of this scale.

So I will.

Still, I want it to be the best I can do right now. So, outside of my designated butt-to-chair hour, I’ve been reading some pretty good stuff on how to construct a climax. Harry Potter and Ender’s Game, for instance. Deconstructing and reconstructing. And these:

Improving Plot Climax

Mistakes Not to Make

That latter site contains several really helpful articles, including one on writing a novel pitch. Not that I’m writing a pitch yet, except I did. But that’s another story for another day. If you’re struggling with your novel, try writing the pitch. It was quite a useful–and fun–exercise.

Hasn’t helped much with my climax, though. Where are those darn elves?

This one will do just fine. Thank you.

How Parenting Makes me a Better Writer (Part Three)

About a month ago, my novel hit 35,000 words, and a mental roadblock. I had a minor climax approaching quickly, and I was terrified. The novel had gone rambly and boring, and I had no clue how I would possibly bring all those random threads together into a convincing and interesting little scene. Besides, I knew nothing about homemade weapons. It was time to bring in the experts.

Meet Monty, age 12; Eli, age 9; and Everett, age 5.

The Weapons Team

We spent about two hours around the kitchen table, drawing diagrams, maps, and illustrations, discussing available materials. They may not remember to put the trash in the can or know the difference between a clean dish towel and a filthy rag, but if you need an injection of wildly creative genius on weapons building… find a pre-teen boy.

The upshot of that session was that the next time I sat down to write, the scene flowed beautifully. I did it. And it was awesome. I know when something is awesome because it triggers my tear-meter. You know the tear-meter, right? When something touches you so that tears spring to your eyes without falling, that’s a level 1 on the tear meter. When you’re bawling uncontrollably with your hands over your eyes and you can’t stop, that’s a 10. I was going for about a three or a four in this scene and BINGO. The tear meter is also sometimes how I know an idea for the novel is going to work–because it triggers a level 1 or 2 response just thinking about it. That’s how I knew one of my characters had to stay in–she triggered a five.*

I also knew the mini-climax scene had worked when, later, I read it back to the kids and they were cheering and gasping and “Hey, that was my idea! You put it in there! And it was awesome!”ing.

So that’s why, when I hit 82,000 words yesterday and realized I was in the same spot again, I took Monty with me down to the lake. By “the same spot,” I mean that I’m nearing another climax–the chief climax of the book–and I’ve gone long and rambly. I’ve added characters and tangents and events that are really cool and fun… but aren’t doing much to get me toward the climax. It’s a form of procrastination.

So I grabbed the dog, and the 12-year-old, and a pair of sandals that I would later regret having worn, and went for a brisk walk. We circled our 2-acre lake about three times, and Monty and I, we sorted it out.

Let me backtrack. I didn’t actually know what the heck I was doing. I wouldn’t want you to get the wrong impression and think I was planning this, that I’m so organized as to know just exactly what I need to do all the time. No no.

I just knew I needed to think. We had most of the day off for the 4th, and I was frustrated with the elusiveness of the darn climax and needed some air. Dogs like walks. So do 12-year-olds when it means alone time with Mom. And he agreed to be quiet and leave me alone, so I let him come.

Only, I didn’t need him to be quiet after all.

We got down there, me muttering things to myself, and then talking out loud, and then asking questions. And, once I admitted that I wanted him to talk to me after all, Monty had ideas. Lots of ideas. Really, really good ideas. In fact, I’m really not sure how much of this novel I can take credit for any more.

By the time we got back, I was clear. This morning I wrote a scene. Tomorrow I’ll write the one after that. And in about a week I will have a climax. And it’s going to be helluva good. I can say that because it wasn’t my idea, so it’s not bragging to say it out loud, right?

Can I also just get a heck yeah for a twelve-year-old who uses the words “protag” and “fan fic” correctly, and can point out when one of my characters is a foil for another? Want interesting kids? Involve them in your life. And be interesting. (Whatever that means to you.)

Conducting field research

P.S. BONUS FEATURE of parenting while writing: You have a built-in fan base. My older two are already plotting fan fiction based on my story. Whoa. Tear meter just registered a 3. Excuse me a minute.

P.P.S. This isn’t actually part three in a series. I know it says “Part Three” up there. I’m not sure why it says that. I seem to periodically write these pieces that touch on parenting, and numbering them gives me an excuse to link to the others, I guess. Anyway. Part One. Part Two.

*The tear meter is probably a really crappy way of making decisions about a novel. I promise the whole thing isn’t a cry-fest. If I pull it off, there will be laughing and cheering too. And plenty of good-old-fashioned fun.