Thoughts on Reading Through the Rest of My Novel

It was a tweet I could have written myself:

(At least the first part of the tweet; it’s pretty hard to create a duology out of a story that’s already been envisioned as a trilogy!)

After having revised the first half(ish) of my medieval historical WIP five times on my own, and then twice after working with critique partners, and then further rewriting the first half of Act II for a third time post CPs, almost a year had passed since I’d last looked at the rest of the story, i.e. from the second half of Act II to the end.

I could barely remember what happened in this section, let alone how well it had been written by the fifth go-over.

(I’ve been calling my current draft Draft #7 because it applies to the majority of the novel, although “the rest of the story” firmly remains a Draft 5 artifact.)

It’s been a while since I’ve read through a large section of my novel all at once, but it felt like the only way to assess both its quality and its cohesiveness with Act II’s first half, which I only just finished rewriting.

As previous, at each new stage in the process of writing this book, I have Thoughts.

Semicircular revision

The latter portion of the revision process I described above is one I’ve come to start referring to as semicircular revision.  It’s involved repeated there-and-back-again swings between the beginning and the middle, but never a full rotation through the entire story.

There are pros and cons to working in this way.  A pro is that since the beginning and middle are the two hardest parts to write, once they are strong and present a clear picture of what the story is actually about, the rest becomes that much easier to work with.

Once you get that far, a degree of inevitability emerges as to what needs to happen to resolve the story.

The downside of this process, though, is that once you get used to seeing an increasingly revised beginning and middle, the less-revised remainder of the story becomes a disjointed and, frankly, embarrassingly horrifying read.

True colours

Paperclipped hard copies of drafts 1 (bottom) to 4 (top)

In an effort to soothe my horror by quantifying the amount of work it actually represented, I once again employed my paperclip method, as I’ve done during past read-throughs of my WIP.

That is, I bound each chapter’s pages with a coloured paperclip as a visual representation of its revision needs.

Here’s what I came up with this time:

  • Total chapters: 12
  • Red chapters: 4
  • Yellow chapters: 5
  • Green chapters: 3

Sadly, these are relative ratings.  Those three green chapters aren’t that good.  Nor does 12 chapters at all seem like the correct number for where the story is plot-wise, meaning that either the first part is too long (likely) or that this part is too rushed (also very likely).

But the good thing about this system is that it breaks a large task down into smaller, shorter sub-tasks.

Having to revise 12 chapters is an intimidating job.  Having to revise only one chapter is not.

Even though I’ll have to revise “only one chapter” twelve different times, each smaller goal feels much more manageable, both physically and mentally.

The whole point of the story

There are many structural flaws in this part of my WIP—incidentally, the same ones I discovered in the first part of the book (had I remembered this material was from two drafts ago, I would have managed my expectations sooo much better.)

The thing that really struck me, though, is that the two biggest things I’m trying to achieve in this story—one, to give the main character a strong emotional journey, and two, to wow the reader with her shrewd plotting and scheming—are the two flattest aspects of this section.

Seriously, the prose is emotionless and unconvincing, full of the reader being told how shrewd the MC is rather than shown the evidence.  Worst execution of one’s authorial intention ever.

Which just goes to show that just because a writer can think up a story doesn’t mean they actually know how to write it—at least not on the first go (or evidently, the fifth one).

The end is near(ish)

I honestly thought I’d already be finished revising this book by now.  Life has gotten in the way a little bit of late, but I’ve never not been working on it, especially since this same time last year.

Regardless, I’m finally starting to see an end to this merry-go-round of rewriting and re-rewriting.  I can see the entire plot now, I know how to fix it, and expect to be able to do so in the near-ish (i.e. the remainder of this year) future.

So I can begin this cycle of torture all over again with an entirely new novel.

~

(Image source #1 and #2 – J.G. Noelle; #3)

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Reading Through the Rest of My Novel

  1. Learning to write well enough so your words on the page correspond with the story in your head is hard work. You get your standards from what you’ve read, but none of those books have shown you the submerged part of the iceberg, the work their author did before you were allowed to read.

    My previous drafts, the ones before the ‘great revision of 2007,’ are atrocious.

    But once I got to the place where I could SEE what was not satisfactory in my own writing, it became much easier to hunt down the solutions to the problems – and learn the necessary craft.

    Craft is a huge part of writing, and I was particularly slow in acquiring it. I’m not exactly sure why I persisted, as the story I’ve spent so many years of my life pursuing isn’t attracting as many readers as I had hoped, yet. But the amazing comments of those who HAVE written my favorite reviews have been worth it.

    Satisfy your own standards first, as you are doing. Then, when you are marketing, at least you will be wholly behind your product.

    I see a lot of writers who may have published too soon questioning everything they’ve done – because no amount of good copywriting can gild the product they actually have to sell.

    Wish it hadn’t taken so long, but I think the good stuff does.

    You’re just doing the work. The book you are proud of will come.

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    • I think I’ve been reasonably fast at acquiring craft – but only after I first started letting others read my work so I could see it through outside eyes, which I only did in a serious way a year ago. Not because I was particularly afraid to do so, but because it was important to me to draft the entire story (i.e. the entire trilogy) first before going back to revise book 1. This may go against a certain degree of conventional wisdom – I already know that books 2 and 3 will require massive revisions, and book 1 may never see (traditional) publication. But the bones are solid and I’m a much faster reviser than I am drafter. And I’ve proven to myself that I could do it, which is perhaps the biggest benefit of all. It’s not something I’ll ever have to convince myself of ever again.

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      • That’s the same thing I did, so I understand perfectly.

        The story had to be finished, beginning to end, before going back, tightening ALL the plotting (I gutted, dumped three pov characters, and completely redid the Dramatica from scratch).

        Then I tackled the corrections to get the story to work. There’s where we differ – I do one scene at a time because that’s all I can manage in my head; but the bones are solid.

        I like the way your mind works – I understand it more than the pantsers’ work. It drives me crazy when the connections between pieces are post hoc and not welded in steel before the complete revision. It shows.

        Like

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