About a year and a half ago, a friend read my second novel – a psychological thriller – and gave me a good deal of constructive criticism, all gratefully received. 

‘I almost feel there’s several novels here,’ she told me over coffee. ‘I think you need to find a way of bringing the various streams together.’

A huge challenge.  At the time, the streams included:

  • The central character’s back story
  • Friendship between central character and his best friend from childhood following a reunion after many years
  • A complex history between the best friend and the central character’s sister
  • A growing sense of menace originating in the three main characters’ shared pasts
  • Shady caricatures of criminals in a bland town

There was little distinct scene setting, and most of the novel revolved around back story and endless dialogue.  At times, I found the writing unbearably frustrating.  The story tended to meander, a problem since its first tentative draft.

Ideally, I wanted to concentrate on the central character, in particular his psychology and confused memories of childhood, but I couldn’t, as I didn’t actually know what had happened to him during his childhood, so I concentrated instead on the on-off romantic relationship between his sister and his best friend.   For some reason, the material didn’t always ring true in places.  I guess that if a writer isn’t passionate about the story, readers will quickly notice.  

Most writers, I would imagine, don’t like cutting material, especially well written material, but pruning seems to be an essential part of the process. I’m now concentrating primarily on the central character with a view to developing the forensic aspects of the story.  Instead of relying solely on memory flashbacks and countless back story sections (both potential clichés), I’m allowing a number of viewpoint characters to establish the forensic elements, along with a simple First Person narrative in present tense that includes occasional brief hazy recollections of a childhood event that is not entirely clear at first.   There is no reason why memory uncertainty shouldn’t play some role in the story.

The back story question itself is far more complex than originally sketched out, now allowing for a richer unfolding of events.  For the first time since resuming this project, I feel a greater degree of confidence and interest in the story.

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4 thoughts on “Novel Writing: A Question of Focus

  1. Constructive feedback can prove invaluable. It seems your friend’s critique was also motivating. Excellent…
    “I guess that if a writer isn’t passionate about the story, readers will quickly notice.” Definitely think you’re right about that.

    Enjoy the weekend!

  2. This novel sounds interesting but perhaps you are not a romantic writer mixed in with all the other detail.

    I would leave this part to much later in the story and concentrate on another outlet, until you get some initiative to return to it.

  3. Thanks. Actually, later on in the story is where some of the previous ideas return, including the relationship between the central character’s best friend and sister.

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