I’ve rewritten the first 40 pages of my novel 6 times in the last year. Partially, this is due to working on it in three separate classes where I’m only required to write 40 pages. I get the feedback from the teacher, which highlights issues so dramatic that I start over.
These last 43 pages I submitted to my advisor, I thought, were the best so far, and maybe they were. I mean, are. But here is the thing: I hate passive main characters with no clear desire and nothing big to lose. AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I WROTE! (That’s right. I’m yelling at you with internet speak.)
What is equally embarrassing was that I poo-pooed several novels (required reading) in my process letter to my advisor for having these same problems. She responded in a kind but direct way, “Speaking of those problems you disliked in other novels, you’re doing them.”
My writing sense (which is similar to spidey sense, but does not help you fight literal evil) knew something was wrong with the pages. They were missing a certain spark, but I couldn’t figure it out. I thought it was something small, an easy fix.
Instead, it was like going to the doctor and being like, “Doc, I don’t feel good. Kinda weak and dizzy. I don’t know what’s wrong.” And the Doctor says, “Do you suppose it has something to do with that large knife protruding from your chest and bleeding profusely all over my exam table?”
So, in light of my manuscript needing heart surgery, I’ve been asking myself:
- What does my main character (Marcus) stand to lose? As in, what does he love so much that if he lost it, his life would be ruined? What is at stake?
- What does Marcus want more than anything?
My answer: goose egg. Zero. Nothing. Turds.
To deal with this issue, I tried staring at the floor, listening to podcasts, playing Candy Crush, and complaining loudly. (Side Note: I did learn that when I’m stuck, if I go for a ski or run, the ideas flow better. Something about moving. Try it! Anyway.)
During said ski/run, I added a fire. Then I got Marcus’ dad injured in the fire. I added a rape. And then took it back and made it an almost rape because I love this girl character way too much to put her through that. I made Marcus cockier. I had him steal. I thought about killing his grandma, but she’s my Dumbledore character, so I couldn’t bring myself to give her a stroke. I redid my plot outline like 94 times.
And there he was talking about all the reasons he became a writer: to look cool, to impress people, to prove people wrong about his lack of skills as a writer.
Part me wants to be a published writer for those same reasons. I wasn’t exactly a golden child in high school. I also come from a place where people get practical jobs and raise families. There’s nothing wrong with that. There just wasn’t a lot of room for dreamers. Or at least, that’s how I felt.
But then Green talked about a book being a gift to the reader. A long time ago, I wrote about something similar on my art site.
We all have mixed reasons for doing the things we do. Part of me wants to prove that I’m good enough to get a book published. But another part of me wants to write a story that will bring some light and encouragement to a young adult in the same way that Green’s books have done for me.
In light of the Green affect, I’m asking this question: What gift is my story offering to the person who picks it up?
???? I don’t know…yet.
But at least, I think, I’m asking the right questions.