I’ve started my second novel.
The first one was an enormous learning experience. I pantsed it–had a loose idea of what I wanted, sat down at the keyboard, and started pounding away. It took far longer than it should have and it’s about as good as I expected. I’m not sure I can or will fix the major problems. The first book was about uncovering the knowledge that can only be gained by doing.
From that experience, I’ve decided to veer into new territory for the second book–outlining. I can’t really talk about the new book without reference to the novel in the drawer. Mistakes were made. Oh, so many mistakes. Some were introduced because I didn’t have a plan. Some were because I took almost two years to write the thing.
Switching voice – I was able to maintain the voice of a few key characters because I had them firmly fixed in my head. But my protagonist and sidekick voices mooshed around like a wad of dirty play-doh about a third of the way in. Lots of detailed correction to do.
Switching protagonist – speaking of protagonist mooshing. I CHANGED my f***ing protagonist ten chapters in. My original lead was boring and stereotypical and blah. His sidekick on the other hand – he was way more interesting. I don’t think that I could have made this mistake with an outline and good character sketches. Well, I could have, but I think I would have caught it in the outline and not 20,000 words in. I’ve already re-written many of the early chapters but I still have more to do here.
Redshirt characters – I’ve got too many characters that don’t do anything other than enter-stage-left and die. Using the principle of the economy of characters, I think I could have used some existing side characters and had a more emotional impact from their deaths. I’ve already seen some changes I’d like to make that will have cascade effects forward and backward in the book. Lots of work.
Meandering – I only had a rough idea of the plot before I started writing. I had identified three key scenes I wanted to write and made them piviots in the story. Apart from those scenes, which only got me to the midpoint, the plot wiggles along obesely until it finally plops down at the end.
Ending – I had no idea how I wanted it to end. Every time I thought I had a handle on it, I ended up writing and thinking my way out of it. I didn’t know how it was going to end until I finally wrote the thing and even then, I wrote a second ending. It was not thrilling for me. Nauseating, not thrilling.
Side-plots – I hadn’t worked out any of the side plots. I think the biggest problem I have to correct is how these ultimately relate to the main plot. Some feel tacked on and some just peter out. By the time I was getting to the end of the main plot, I wanted to tie up everything else and it reads like I just wanted to be done.
There are other mistakes I’m sure I’ll uncover with more detailed read-throughs.
This post may make it sound like I hate the book. I don’t. There are some really good passages and some tight, exciting chapters. I know I’ve got some good stuff. I don’t think a story just materializes out of the ether of my brain. It may for some, but not for me. My biggest concern is that I don’t have much of an interesting story. That analysis will have to come later when I actually read through the whole thing instead of bits and pieces.
So, to solve these and other problems, I’ve decided to do detailed character sketches, world-building, and scene outlines. I want to do the noodling and discovery before I start the 1st draft. I may be over-correcting and doing too much, but I think that I’ll get as much out of this learning experience as I did the first time around. I’ll keep you posted on how the outlining process is working for me.