Leila gearing up to give me a piece of her mind.
Today, I decided to make some drastic structural changes to my book, and I have to tell you, it hasn’t been easy.
Editing and re-writing is a central part of the writing process. Readers tend to think of books as monoliths, artistic expressions that emerged fully formed, much like Athena from the forehead of Zeus, but that’s only because they haven’t been privy to the process of getting there.
The reality is much, much messier. Most books have as many lives as a cat before they finally land in the reader’s lap. Revising is a ruthless process, in which turns of phrase, characters and scenes – some of which may be painful to part with – end up in the bin. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a prolific though now little-known Victorian novelist called it murdering your darlings, and much like ending an actual life, it’s just as bloody.
Take my novel.
City in the Mist began life as an entirely different beast, a supernatural historical comedy, but then somewhere around (what was then) Chapter 5, it morphed into something unexpected.
Elements remain, as you will know if you’ve read the free chapters available on the landing page of this website, but it has now become more of a Sci-Fantasy, albeit with historical and (hopefully) comedic elements.
Naturally, that meant I had to go back after the first draft and make a number of revisions, but in the end, there was less restructuring than I’d anticipated. Probably because the change of direction happened less unexpectedly than I thought and only surprised me so much because it really wasn’t what I had been planning.
As much as I had been planning at all.
I am what is known as a ‘pantser’, a writer who starts with an idea and sets off without having much idea where it will lead. The counterpart to that is the plotter, who meticulously lays out the journey and the characters, sometimes on a chapter-by-chapter basis, and has a very clear idea of their destination. Perhaps it is a metaphor for life, for I’ve never really known where I’m going, but always seem to get there, anyway. And generally have a lot of fun along the way. Which is not to belittle plotters. If anything, I admire writers who are able to conceive of a structure and then follow it.
That said, I tend to believe the distinction is somewhat arbitrary. It’s been my experience, both in non-fiction and fiction, that writing involves a degree of both pantsing and plotting, but when writers say that their characters drive their stories, telling them what they want to say and do next it may sound like they have a headful of salvia divinorum, but it is true. Form a character well-enough and when you try to make them do something that they would not do as a way to drive the plot forward, they will dig their heels in, look you in the eye and tell you to get lost.
Well, they will if they are Leila.
And so when on this last pass before I send the book for Beta reading, Leila dug her heels in and told me a that what I was trying to make her do in the last scene in Chapter 17 really wasn’t going to fly, I was rather taken by surprise. As writing it the way she wanted required dumping a couple of chapters of which I was rather proud. I toyed for a while with the idea of just ignoring her. I am the author, after all. But she kept on, more insistent with every appearance, which is so very Leila. When she finally popped up in a dream, I gave in. Leila won and I’ve made a couple of major changes, if only for my own peace of mind, though I do think the story flows better now, so perhaps I should thank her for the intervention. I’m just about getting there now, and while it’s been painful saying goodbye (at least for now) to some of the action I had written, as there are at least two more books to go in the story, I can’t afford to have my main character stop talking to me now.
And so I have waved so long though not farewell to my goal of getting the book out by March 2023. It may still happen – much stranger things have, goodness knows – but it may mean that summer is a more a realistic goal. Then again, perhaps I should ask Leila before I go making more predictions of that kind…
As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Does the idea of having a disagreement with a fictional character sound odd to you? Do you think I’m just making excuses? Or does this make you even more intrigued to get to know the redoubtable Leila?
Speak to you again next week!