My July Camp Nanowrimo did not go exactly as I planned and, while my work on the second draft of my current novel-in-progress has gone well this past month, it did so in unexpected ways. My plan for July was to tackle the first draft I wrote during April’s Camp Nanowrimo (which ended up being just over 100k words).
I re-read the draft and then looked at it, scene by scene and identified some rather large structural issues (the worst was that it began with a day that was almost 25 000 words, 1/4 of the book — there is a place for that sort of thing, I suppose, but the rest of book was not nearly that slow). I also had some reservations about the plot in general, mostly that it seemed weak (characters lacking good reasons for acting as they do, events happening too fortuitously, etc). The inciting incident, in particular, didn’t make a lot of sense (it was way too subtle).
After spending some time brainstorming on these big picture issues, I began scene by scene editing, but soon stopped when I realized that I really wasn’t very happy with the plot issues mentioned above or, to be honest, the tone and mood of the story, either.
All of this might make it sound like the draft had little value, but I actually rather liked other aspects of it.
It’s a near future (2098) story about a family — a couple with two small kids — displaced by the effects of climate change and facing a variety of difficult decisions and challenges. And I liked my premise and many of the characters and all of that (and the ending, I really like the ending, which largely survived the month).
So, once I stopped looking at it scene by scene, I began to break down the story more and did a lot of brainstorming around the inciting incident, since that seemed to me the key issue. (I brainstorm mostly by walking around my writing space, talking out loud to myself, and writing revelations on large newsprint sheets taped to the wall. Sometimes, I audio record it, but not always.)
What was bothering me, I realized, was that there was too little external action, it was all about the main character’s very internal thoughts. The whole plot hinged on the main character (Fern) becoming frustrated with her current situation to the point of taking rather extreme steps without there being much logic to hold it all together. There was a lot of Fern and her partner Lea arguing, there was a lot of very close description of both their day to day lives and where they were.
The more I thought about it, and talked to myself about it, the clearer it became that I needed to add more disruptive elements to the story, more external challenges to their situation.
I hope I have done that to some degree, as I have a new outline now and a scene by scene summary to work from. I was able to salvage just over 20 000 words of the original 100k. Which I am weirdly fine about — it’s like I got to know my characters really well writing the first draft, but I put them in the wrong story. I am also very familiar with a lot of the locations and backstory. Which is all to the good.
(I know that is a lot of words to just toss and I’m as surprised as anyone that I am okay with it. But it feels so right., that this will be a much better story.)
The new plot is very similar in some ways, particularly in so far as motivation and intention go. The setting is the same in general, but almost half of the new version now takes place in a different location. I have also added a number of new characters (as well as removing some who are no longer necessary).
My plan going forward is to write at least one chapter a week (since some of the chapters have a fair bit of usable, or semi-usable, material from the first draft, they are likely to go more quickly). I am going to take this much slower than the now-abandoned first draft (the current outline has 14 chapters, so this could take until early November ). I am hoping that it will benefit from the slower pace, but I also have more intrusions on my time from my day job right now so it is also largely unavoidable. (Also, I have a few shorter pieces I am working on…)
Things may not have gone as planned, but they do seem to be going in the right direction. It’s excellent that you’re able to look at your work this way and break it down, see what it needs, and move forward. Good luck with the process. You’ll get there.
It’s really interesting to hear about your process. I think your ability to see what is/isn’t working and pull apart your novel to rewrite a better one is such a great skill. Something we should all strive to be able to do. In the long run I think you’ll be glad you weren’t too precious about saving the first draft and be happier with the overall outcome.