Your story needs to go where the character takes it.
About two weeks ago, I blogged about having to begin the rewrite of my middle grade, again. I planned to scrap what I had written and start from scratch because the character just didn’t feel right in my new draft.
I thought the problem was where I had started the story, so I planned to write a new first chapter, one that took place a bit earlier than the current chapter.
But when the time came to write this new chapter, I had to force myself to try. Forced. Slogged. Moaned. Griped. If you get the feeling that it probably didn’t go really well, you’d be right. Sure, I drafted a new first chapter but by the time I had finished, I knew that I had produced Stinker #2.
While avoiding this particular project later in the week, I came across an online Writer’s Digest article, “25 Ways to Improve Your Writing in 15 Minutes a Day.” I didn’t really believe it would help, but reading it beat the heck out of actually trying to rewrite chapter 1.
The first exercise discusses flow and how every piece of writing needs to have it. If it doesn’t, if it feels awkward, you are probably trying to force something. To figure out where you went wrong and how to solve it, David Morrell says that you should ask your piece of writing “What do you want to do?”
Now, me being me, I can’t actually bring myself to ask my work-in-progress anything, thank you very much. But I can ask my character what story he wants to tell. I don’t get it either — it seems like a very fine distinction. But the latter approach worked. In only a few moments, I realized what my character wanted (go to the pool! swim!). Yes, yes, he does have homework to do. And, yes, if he doesn’t finish the assignment, he won’t go on to middle school. But he has time to finish it. He’s been in school sitting at his desk all day. He needs to move, to push himself, to feel his muscles work. This is, after all, his story. Isn’t it?
Unfortunately, up until then, it wasn’t as much his story as it should have been. You see, I’m rewriting this for an agent. I had taken her advice quite literally. She didn’t understand how he could justify putting off his work when it is soooo important. Ok, I don’t get it either, but then I’m an adult. A mom. My son and all but one of his friends would all go to the pool.
The beginning didn’t work when I tried to literally follow the agent’s advice. What I need to take away from her comments is that, as it stood, the beginning didn’t work. If he is going to go to the pool first, I need to justify it. Strongly justify it. I need to make the adult buyer see things through Josiah’s eyes.
But I also have to remember whose story I’m telling. When I did that, the story started to flow. I went from slogging through 500 words in a morning to laying down 2606 words in one afternoon.
Listen to what your characters are trying to tell you. Remember to tell their story. When you do, the rewrite will go much, much better.