Monday, September 17, 2012

Tangled Ends

Lately I’ve been scribbling away, writing the end of my new novel and growing more and more frustrated.  When I wrote the first draft it had an end.  Simple, happily-ever-after. When I began the second draft my research demanded that I change things here and there. I also condensed a couple of minor characters into a secondary character. By the time I reached the end of my story these changes had snowballed together so that I ended up near the end with a whole issue between my hero and this new character that had to be resolved.  That isn’t unusual when writing and I’ve dealt with this problem before. However this time it felt like the problem was like the hub of a wheel and each idea l created to handle it, became another spoke, veering the story off in a different direction.

When I took the problem to my critique group I was given even more suggestions  for writing the scene. And once again each scenario became another spoke, sending the story off in yet another direction.
On top of that, part way into the story my hero ended up owning a mule. This mule named Percy, wasn’t in the original draft, and as he wasn’t all that important to the plot line, he wasn’t involved in the ending.  But my critique group loved him so much they threatened to launch a Save Percy campaign on Facebook if I didn’t find a way to bring him back into the story.

So I sat down, picked a scenario, and wrote it out. I wrote three different endings yet none of them felt right. This novel that I had wanted to finish by the end of May had now crept into September.


I had lost focus.  I need to step back and with pen and paper figure out how each of these scenarios moved the plot forward?

Each scene has its own story arc with a beginning, a middle and end. Each action in the scene causes a reaction, which is why choice A created C and D and choice B caused E and F.


I needed to look at those actions and pick the one that created the strongest reaction.
I went back to my hero and heroine and thought about who had the most at stake in resolving this issue with the secondary character. In this light I could easily see my hero had the most to lose. That told me this part of the story needed to be written in his point-of-view.

Once I established that, I looked at the character arcs again, especially my hero’s, reevaluating what his main goal had been throughout the story. How would this scene allow him to reach or not reach that goal?

How much should my heroine help him? Would helping or not helping him aid her in achieving her goals?

Then I had to look at my hero’s biggest fear to see which scene choice pushed him the most emotionally.

Once I wrote out the answers to these questions then it gradually became clear that to get the strongest reaction and create the most emotion in the characters I would have to pick B.

I even managed to wiggle Percy back into the end for a cameo.



Tina Donahue said...

Wow - glad it worked out for you, Kathy.

Although many find critique groups helpful, to me it seems like writing by committee. Everyone has their own opinion and those opinions can become confusing to the writer.

When I first started writing, I tried to match my style to what was currently being pubbed by the big romance houses. Never sold any of that because it wasn't my voice, my vision. I was trying to write to please someone else or bend my thinking to someone's opinion.

Those first stumbles taught me to trust my own instincts. They haven't failed me since. :)

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Tina,

I agree, writers should trust their instincts. We all have that inner sense of the story that no one else can hear.

I've also heard horror stories about critique groups, but I happen to belong to a great one. I would be nowhere without their support. But for me, what it took to figure this out was that bare bones look at the story and character arcs. I'd become so overwhelmed by the forrest, I couldn't see the trees. Thanks so much for stopping.

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Lordy, Kathy, it sure sounds complicated. I've painted myself into a corner several times during a story and I can truly identify with your situation. I noticed you said the magic word "Focus". That's what I had to do, too--step back and focus.
On a side note, I have to say that I have been in several critique groups and none of them worked. I experienced everything from no input where everyone said, "oh that's good", to snarky critcisms that led me to the dreaded writer's block. I rewrote one book's beginning 3 times trying to please one group until I ended up in a mess and, like you, lost my way. Finally, I had to focus on my main characters, feel their pain and trust myself to tell their stories.
I'm looking forward to reading your upcoming release. You are so talented. I wish you continued success.

jean hart stewart said...

Very interesting. I always like to know how other writers do it. I"ve got one good writer friend who's critiques I couldn't do without, but a group doesn't work for me. Glad yours does....

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Sarah,

Sorry you had such a bad experience in your critique group. There are so many directions a story can go, especially when the plot layers start tangling together. Every story tells in a different way, and this one ended up like Charlie Brown's kite string at the end.

Kathy Otten said...

Hi Jean,

Glad you have a great critique partner. I enjoy hearing how other writers do it also. Once in a while we need to get together and share plotting difficulties. Kind of like a mom sharing stories about their kids. Thanks for stopping. :)