I’ve finally finished the draft of the psychological thriller I’m currently working on, having spent seven weeks revising and editing. The story now stands at 91,000 words, slightly shorter than before. I’ve more or less enjoyed the process, have experienced only the occasional bout of writer’s block this time round and feel I’ve really accomplished something of value.
As I posted elsewhere, I revised the manuscript with several points in mind:
- A different character driver. In fiction, the character’s motives, desires, fears and conflicts drive the story forwards. The central question of each story has to be – will the protagonist achieve the goal they have set out to achieve early on in the story? There are three possible answers to the question – Yes, No or Maybe (open endings). This central question shapes the story. If there is no quest for the character to embark on, there really isn’t much of a story.
- The Importance of Story Questions. Keeping a list of story questions helps keep the story focused. In the past I had huge problems because of a failure to work on some type of structure. Not surprisingly, I felt like giving up writing at times. During the rewrite, I tried a new technique – I would write down the most recent story questions in reverse order from memory.
- Viewpoint. Many of the problems in the earlier drafts stemmed from the fact I was telling most of the story from the wrong viewpoint. There are three viewpoint characters, a thirty-five year old guy, his sister and his best mate. There are also sections of back story, including sudden flashbacks where the story is told from the perspectives of the (then) ten-year-old boys. Previously, I concentrated on the relationship between the protagonist’s sister and his best friend, but members of a local novelist suggested that the relationship between the two didn’t really work. This time, I’ve paid more attention to the two male characters.
- Rotating Viewpoints. With the exception of the final showdown scenes, each chapter is told only from the perspective of one character and the chapter viewpoints rotate. I strongly believe that whilst this method of narration has its drawbacks, rotating viewpoints per chapter allows a greater level of psychological intensity and immediacy. Anyway, I prefer working in this way.
I’ve reached the 67,000 word point in my current psychological thriller and am trying to put into the practice the elements of creative writing techniques I’ve been posting about – namely, what to do when, or if, writer’s block occurs. In this particular story, I’ve rotated viewpoints so that each chapter is told from a distinct perspective. I feel the method of narration adds to the atmosphere and takes away the “samey” tone so apparent in previous drafts.
So what next? Now that I’ve reached the final stage of the story, I’m considering looking at two or three deleted scenes set originally at about fourteen thousand words. Sometimes, in fiction, a scene that doesn’t work in one place can be axed, then brought back at a later date and placed somewhere else in the story. That’s why backup copies are so important. Keeping a list of story questions really helps too, as these can bring meaning to scenes that previously appeared to lack purpose. I’m quite confident about completing this novel draft soon.
Have you ever written something, thought it was brilliant, then read through the text, only to discover a piece of rambly waffle? I have, although fortunately it doesn’t happen often anymore. These are several of the reasons why my earlier attempts at novel writing often left me feeling drained and frustrated.
1) Failure to understand viewpoint (POV). Initially, I took a cinematic approach looking in on the characters. That’s fine in itself, but I had no real understand of what to recapture, so I often concentrated on the mundane details, like the dust on the telephone handset. It made scene setting a nightmare. I also referred a lot to character movements, such as running a finger through their hair, smiling, frowning, grinning. This gave the text a screen writing feel. I still can’t define viewpoint in a single sentence – I think it’s too elusive for that – but I like to think of a character coming on stage (the page) and announcing “this is my story”. Everything that follows is told from the perspective of that particular character. The character is free to interpret events in any way they like. Great for memory flashbacks or muddled memories.
2) A lack of understanding of structure and plot. Originally, I had no real idea of what I was doing. I was trying to write a psychological thriller, but getting hopelessly lost and no one from the local novelist group was impressed. Stories pass through eight stages, one of which was missing from mine:
The starting point (“stasis”);
An inciting event (“trigger”);
The central character’s search for an answer, an object or a person (“quest”);
A succession of obstacles preventing the character from achieving their aim (“surprise”);
Decisions the character makes (“critical choice”);
The consequences of the choices (“climax”);
Consequences of climax (“reversal”);
Aftermath/New Stasis (“resolution”).
My story fell flat at the critical choice stage because the main character was too passive and failed to decide on decisive action to solve their problems. In the previous post, I mentioned character factors that drive the story. What does the character in question want most? What does the character fear most? I wasn’t able to answer the questions for a long time. Eventually, I had to restructure the story entirely, taking into account the driving character questions, along with basic forensics/procedural and an entirely new viewpoint character. Interestingly, the rewrite was far easier this time round.
3) Hanging on to problematic material. Some creative writing tutors talk about “murdering your darlings” – i.e. getting rid of your favourite parts of the story. This doesn’t always help. In fact, writers should mark the sections that have received praise from others. However, stories develop over time and sometimes the original ideas lose their importance (or perhaps were never credible in the first place). Hanging on to an idea that clearly isn’t working will prevent the story from flourishing. I made some pretty bad mistakes at first, but I’ve murdered most of the darlings since then.