Tuesday, January 13, 2009
By Martha Reed
I had a wonderful time at the Hallie Ephron workshop the other night and one thing Hallie said really stood out for me. She mentioned a writer friend who had completed and submitted a manuscript and the copy editor told the author to ditch the first seven chapters, just strike them off and start the story there, at that fresh point.
Now, I don’t know about you, but writing seven chapters would have taken me three or four months of solid effort and I probably would resist such a suggestion. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to agree with the idea because I ran across a similar happenstance with my first novel. I spent months – literally months – crafting and honing and polishing my opening chapter and had a dreadful realization about halfway through the manuscript that I needed to kill that chapter after all my hard work.
That was when I learned to follow the suggestion of previous writers and just blow through my manuscript until I got the whole story down and THEN go back and start the editing process. I admit that with the first novel I was so amazed that I was even actually writing something that long it was enough for me but I have learned since then not to concentrate so much effort on perfection because IT WILL CHANGE – probably more than once – before the whole thing is over.
I learned this lesson again on Sunday morning. I’m not going to give anything away, but I have a set up between a couple of characters and all along I knew that one of them (Character A) was evil and blackmailing Character B. I thought that the blackmailing would be hateful enough (if slightly clichéd) but as I was working deeper into Character B I realized that this person was such a complete alcoholic Character B doesn’t even remember what happened that eventful night.
Well, I thought, that’s torn it because how can you be blackmailed for something you don’t even remember doing and then the twist came to me, a way to make it even more deliciously evil – Character A knows Character B doesn’t remember what happened and is using the blackout to extort money on the pretext of actually doing good.
Now, if I can make that clear to the reader – my next challenge – my story will take on something fresh while adding a layer of depth to Character A as well as to Character B. Insights and inspirations like this are why I love to write.
Of course, going back to Chapter 3 to edit out the blackmail bit is annoying but as they say, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over – and then I’ll hand it to a copyeditor and edit it some more.