Novel Writing Mistakes (2)

This is the post you hope to never have to write…

Rewind to the weeks leading up to November 1st, 2016. I was preparing to enter National Novel Writing Month with the outline of my fifth novel: Breaking Bread. I never have all the details worked out when I write, just character studies and a list of the major events that need to move the story from start to finish. This gives me, the writer, a lot of flexibility as the novel progresses.

Not every writer writes this way. There are “plotters” –who have all the entire story mapped out in exhaustive detail. There are “pantsers” — writers who “fly by the seat of their pants,” having only the major ideas of the story figured out. And of course there are all combinations of writers who fall in between. That would be me.

There is no right way to write. Whatever method works best for you, your style, your habits — it’s all good. Unless of course you are posting the novel to your blog for everyone to read… Which brings me to my problem. I have come to a point in the novel where I have changed my mind about how the story moves toward its climax. The new direction I want to go is in conflict with some details I wrote in previous chapters. In other words, I’ve painted myself into a corner. Nevertheless, I’m thrilled with the new idea and am determined to make it work. This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last time this happens.

I have two potential solutions:

  1. Keep going with the draft the way it is and find a reasonable explanation for the part that doesn’t make sense. This is the less acceptable solution in my opinion. It feels like cheating. And I think on some level the reader can tell that you switched gears halfway through. I’ve only done this on one occasion and was happy with the end result. If I were only writing this as a serial piece and not as the draft of a book for publication, I would choose this alternative.
  2. Return to the section of the story that interferes with the logical progression of the new idea and change it. This could be a major rewrite or it could be a matter of editing out a few strategic sentences or paragraphs. Sometimes even changing a few words can do the trick. This is all I will need to do to make my new plot point make sense.

The trouble is… I have already written and posted (and you have read) the part of the story I will need to change. It is entirely possible that I’m overthinking the importance of this particular incongruity and none of you will pay it any mind. However, that is the tangle that has prevented me from proceeding with the story. I feel like now that I have explained, I can move forward.

These are the issues you face in drafting the first version of your novel. Rewrites are inevitable and in this particular instance, when Breaking Bread is finished, it will give me an opportunity to explain how I edit and proof read. That was part of the reason for posting it all to the blog in the first place… to show the process from start to finish. So bear with me while I walk through the wet paint to the end.

Diary of a New Writer – (2) I’m a writer! Now what?

(Part 1 can be found here.)

It all started with a fancy notebook.  Well, not super fancy, but better than a plain-old, college-ruled, spiral-bound notebook, anyway.  Every writer keeps a notebook, right?  I had a collection of beautiful pens.  I started a secret (so my friends wouldn’t guess what I was up to) Pinterest board and pinned a bunch of writing quotes and suggestions.  I revisited my Tumblr blog, which to this point was basically:

a Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Tennant fangirl site, and started following some actual writing blogs!  I downloaded a thesaurus app for my iPad, opened up a fresh document in Pages on my iMac.  I was ready to do this!          *crickets chirping*      Ummm….

What do I write about?  Should I start with a short story?  Practice by following some writing prompts?  There is no shortage of them floating around the blogosphere and social media.   Do I follow that old platitude of ‘write what you know?’  Meh.  I don’t want to write an autobiography.  Write what you like to read!  Better!  A mystery?  Yes!  A little romance?  Oh, yeah!  Some humor to break the tension?  Absolutely!  Ok, the ideas were starting to form!  Now, where to begin.  I decided a short story was the way to go.  I also knew this:  I wanted to write about a strong, capable, female character.  (Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it’s a cliché, but what else would you call her?)  Next, I had to figure out what would happen to her.  Here were some of my early ideas:

  1.  She is a doctor who has volunteered with a group like Doctors Without Borders.  The doctors are sent into a war zone and captured by the rebel insurgents.  When they are finally rescued and returned home, our main character has PTSD and tries to heal and recuperate by retreating to her family’s cabin in the mountains.  She finds a home in the local community and love with another damaged soul (enter handsome male character).  Meanwhile, someone in her former group believes she was witness to a crime committed in the war zone and comes after her.  She finds herself fighting for her life once again.
  2. A burned out executive realizes that climbing the corporate ladder is not the way to happiness. She gives up her high paying, high stress job and takes a teaching job at small, rural college.  She rents a house in the village near the school and befriends her landlord, the retired police chief, who lives next door.  The current chief of police is an inept bungler and the old cop, along with our heroine, end up solving some big mystery (I never established what it was).
  3. Our heroine is a teacher who decides to escape the noise and pollution of the city for the summer and spend the break at her family’s cabin in the mountains.  (Are you sensing a theme, here?)  The property backs up to an abandoned mountain retreat built at the height of the Industrial Revolution.  During the late 1800s to early 1900s the place served as a spa, but later was turned into a mental institution for the rich who wished to lock their crazy relatives away.  It has been closed down since the 1970s.  So why can you sometimes still see lights shining through the trees?  Our heroine and her handsome neighbor must investigate!

There are more of them, but these were better developed than the rest.  I still might eventually do something with them.  By this point, half of my fancy notebook is full and I can’t make up my mind.  I re-read my Pinterest board quotes.  I gave myself a pep talk.  “Just start one of them and see where it goes.  If it sucks, move on.”  I chose option number one: my doctor story, and started my opening scene.  Dr. Lindsay and her brother and her father are unloading the car at the cabin.  Show, don’t tell, right?  Beautiful scenery, gorgeous sunset, dust motes floating in the sunbeams shining through the cabin windows…  Yawn.  I  wasn’t feeling it.  But then…

Then!  …a flash of inspiration hits you and you just have to run with it!  That is exactly what happened when I imagined Jennifer Dunne.  I saw her in my mind, cast Jennifer Lawrence to play her in the movie.

images(I actually named her Jennifer after Ms. Lawrence!  I took her last name from the Dunne department stores in Ireland. Image via

I had the starting point of the story in mind.  Life was about to get complicated for this young woman.  She was about to uncover a secret from her mother’s past.  What happens next?   Well, duh, she meets a hot guy.  Together, they dig into the mystery.  She becomes the target of some ruthless criminals.  How will she handle it all?  I knew how I wanted the story to end.  Secret uncovered, mystery solved, bad guys dealt with.  This was great!  This was no short story, it could be a novel!  I just need about 90,000 more words!  Hmm.  She has friends, she has a job, she has family.  All these minor characters and subplots need to be developed.  The clues to our mystery need to be slowly revealed.  Are the police involved?  What about the relationship between the young couple?  Is it smooth sailing or do problems arise?  I had some list-making and organizing to do.  That’s what I’ll tell you about next time!  Oh, and my Tumblr blog?  It’s now a Colin O’Donoghue fangirl site!  Just kidding, Colin plays a part in the next installment!