Sunday, May 21, 2006

Hindsight being what it is...

I've been skim-reading my way through 2004's National Novel Writing Month novel -- "Waiting for a Miracle" -- for the last few days, trying to refresh my memory of it. I've got someone reading it now, with an editor's eye, and so I thought it might be nice to review my own material in case the editor in question had questions for me.

What I found while skimming it was kind of surprising.

While writing it, I had been afraid that the second half of the book was overly draggy. That it was too long, and took its time getting to where it needed to be. That was my biggest concern about pacing. What I actually found, though, was that it actually travelled too fast. It got us to places sooner than it should have, that there wasn't enough of a sense of mystery going on.

Right now, the book is broken up into two approximate halves -- appropriately titled Part One and Part Two. The first part explains the back story of the main character, a miserable alcholic man who may or may not be able to perform miracles. The second part of the book is the story of a female reporter tracking him down in order to write a story on these supposed miracles.

The problem is, it very much feels like she tracks him down too fast.

Looking at it now, I almost think it should be three parts. The first part identical to what it is now, with the backstory. The second part should be a longer and mysterious search for the miserable drunkard. And the third part could be what happens between the reporter and the drunkard when she finally finds him.

The only sort of structural headache to that is the fact that each of the two parts has a different narrator -- the miracleman in part one, and the journalist in part two. If I went with three parts, it would seem sort of strange to have one narrator for one part, and another for two parts. An inequity in narration, sort of. Like there should actually be three different narrators. But because there aren't three really vital characters (well, there are, but the third one really, really wouldn't work as a narrator) there's no third party to drag onto the job.

I think I *did* figure out, though, how to stretch out the second part of the book without adding pointless padding.

The reason it moves ahead too quickly is that the journalist's story ultimately becomes her quest for the miracleman's story, which moves us forward into his world, and into the discovery of his life and lifestyle, far too quickly. However, if she had her own story -- her own character arc to pass through -- while she was also hunting down the miracleman for her editor, there could be occasional distractions from her own story.

And, in fact, without that she's not much more than a literary gimmick through which we view a character -- in a way, she's only there to illustrate the difference between the way the main character sees himself, and how other people see him.

It wouldn't even be that hard to do. She already has a sort of character arc in the story, just not one that was particularly well fleshed out at the beginning. It was something I stumbled onto as I went along. Fleshing that character arc out is something I could probably almost do in my sleep.

But it's going to probably require a fair amount of rewriting work on the second half of the book. But I think the second half would require that rewriting anyway -- it's not as clean as I'd hoped it was. A lot of it reads quite weak. The first half, on the other hand, is surprisingly strong for a first draft and is, I think, some of the best writing I've ever done in anything, in any medium, and won't require much in the way of cleaning at all.

Even the pacing of it seems spot on. in spite of the fact that I was just groping around for ideas and plot threads at the time. I actually think I had a stronger idea of the second half before starting it than I did of the first half, and yet it's the first half that seems more natural, more cohesive, more right.

I guess that's just the way things work out sometimes.


elise_on_life said...

I started reading this entry, but as I got to the fourth paragraph and realized you were going to spout out the details, I stopped! Don't want to ruin the ending! I'm working through Part One, and don't want anything given away! I'll have to come back later to read this entry.

Todd said...

Oops, sorry. Guess I should have put a *SPOILER ALERT!* message at the top :)