What Happens Next?

I’m in that transitional period once again… I’ve finished the rewrite I was working on but can’t really face going back to one of the other stories, so I’m having a few days break. 

On Wednesday, I read through the draft of the second novel for the first time in a couple of months, along with comments from a friend who also read the story.  I feel the first twelve chapters have some structural problems concerning too much back story introduced in the wrong places.  Some of the warmth and the charm from earlier manuscripts has now gone, lost in a flurry of grim memories of rising vigilantism on a tough housing estate in 1980s Britain at the time of the first recession.   Having said that, there are far more psychologically chilling scenes in the present and a greater rationale behind the antagonist’s behaviour.  

This problem occurs often in the process of ruthless editing… you solve one major problem, but end up losing something of the original.

I also took a lot at the novel I started recently but had to abandon due to the rewrite of the first.   Like the other two, this third one is a psychological thriller dealing with memory flashbacks.   In some ways, I was pleasantly surprised at the writing and the pace, although I think some scenes will need further clarification.  I also think the basic plot structure might need further work.

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A Simpler Plot: The Rewrite

Finally, I’ve reached the final chapters of my novel, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside.   In a previous posts, I mentioned a phrase that some creative writing tutors use rather a lot: “murdering your darlings.”  The logic behind it is this:  a story, particularly a novel or novella, develops  over time and sometimes the original ideas and arguments end  up clashing with the new direction of the story – therefore, the writer should consider cutting these old problematic sections to allow the story plot to develop.  However, most writers don’t want to cut sections of writing they’re particularly proud of.  The sections have become their “darlings”.  Yet, it is these “darling” sections that could be holding the story back.

As I stated in an earlier post, I tended to pump up the fear factor at first.  This, of course, had the opposite effect, removing any traces of subtlety from the story and creating scenes that weren’t frightening at all because most people wouldn’t find those scenes convincing.    In the last two rewrites of the novel, I’ve had to remove all aspects of madness in the viewpoint of the male character and concentrate instead on a simpler, more logical plot structure.

In most crime/thriller fiction, plot is character led.   Two of the best questions to ask about a main character are – 1) what do they fear most? and 2) what do they want most?   These driving forces propel the story forward and determine the various plot possibilities.

Composer Liszt

I rarely blog about music these days, but I’m still very much involved in it.  I’m working on a classical piano recital programme that I hope to perform several times in the next couple of months.

Originally, I studied music at degree level at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon,  specialising in composition and the psychology of music.   About four years later, I got interested in piano performance.  Earlier, I’d avoided performing in public due to performance nerves and stage fright, but this hasn’t been too much of a problem over the years, except for those occasions when I suddenly get a feeling of unreality as I’m playing before an audience.

My favourite composers are Beethoven (mid sonatas), Chopin, Liszt, Grieg and Rachmaninoff.  The following, I believe, is an outstanding performance of Liszt’s 12th Hungarian Rhapsody:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAqA2E5D0lI

I’m studying the same work for a concert, but can’t imagine getting it up to the same standard in the clip.

About Two Thirds Through Novel

I’ve reached the 64,ooo word stage of the current story I’m working on, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside.   A couple of months ago, a literary agent said the sections written from the male character viewpoint didn’t really work and that the rewrite had caused the story to become muddled and lose its way.   Since the agent liked the female character viewpoint and the family setup in the back story, I have kept these sections.  

Basically, I’ve done something that creative writing tutors call “murdering your darlings” – thats getting rid of sections you particularly cherish, especially those sections written early on in the story.   No one, of course, should cut passages of writing simply for revision purposes.  However, stories develop in time and sometimes the new ideas clash with the old.   See more on this.

When I first started writing psychological suspense, I tried too hard to create an atmosphere of fear.   Rather than getting inside the character’s head and working on the logic of the plot,  I went a bit over the top in attempt to portray mad characters.   I’ve blogged about some of my earlier mistakes elsewhere.

What I’ve now done is remove all traces of madness from the male character’s viewpoint and worked solely on plot logic.  Admittedly, it’s not as much fun as before, but the work is something that needs to be done.

The Written Plan: Plot and Structure

Occasionally, I’ve written something and thought it good, but when I’ve gone back to it after several weeks, I’ve found it muddled or lacking logic.  I think this is fairly common.  In novel writing, things can easily go wrong for a number of reasons, usually due to lack of proper planning or relying too much on copy and paste.  

Elsewhere, I’ve talked about various techniques that can help: 

At the moment, I’m relying on a written summary I typed dealing with the antagonists, their motives and personal histories.  I read through the typed plan every day before I start to write and make notes to clarify matters.   It’s amazing how small details can easily be overlooked.

50,000 Words

I’ve now reached 50,000 words of the draft I’m currently working on, a psychological thriller told from two viewpoints regarding two characters struggling to cope with the past.  I ran into trouble when I tried  to write out a major character from the story.  

I’ve since reinstated the character and revised the plot on previous lines, developing that particular character. The problem with this particular character has helped me realise that structural difficulties in storytelling are similar to difficulties in real life – the problems are there  to stay.  

Fiction is all about conflict and situations worsening.   Getting rid of material to simplify matters doesn’t always work.  

Fortunately, I’ve managed to escape writer’s block this time round, apart from once.

 

Further Writing Tips

Update

Still having some problems with RSI, although they’re not as bad as before.  Also having a huge struggle with the novel writing, in particular the plot in the psychological thriller I’ve been working on.   Ruthless editing sometimes makes the original problems a lot worse.

I ended up scrapping much of the rewrite of the last three weeks and going back to the original text.   I still need to address the difficulties in the man’s viewpoint, but I’ve been sketching a lot of background notes to bring his character to life.