The answer to everything (and no, it's not 42)

So all of spring break, despite our cat emergencies and ending up sick myself, I worked like a fiend on the novel. Seriously--as in many hours straight through a day, going head to word with what I've written. This may not have been the best thing for my students, as now I head back with tons of papers still to grade, but I feel like I made a lot of progress on my writing. The most important thing, though, was that I rediscovered my direction.

It happened tonight, while I was working out a particularly difficult transition, one that got past all six of my dissertation readers (who I am now convinced really didn't read the book very closely), but one I've never been happy with and I think holds the key to some crucial points of the book. That's what made me spend three days on one paragraph and almost a week on a page, because I felt like if the book didn't turn right there, it wasn't going to. And tonight, about half an hour ago, it did. I finally got it to work. Then I got up and poured myself another glass of diet Coke (maybe all my writing sessions should be fueled by DayQuil and diet Coke), and happened to glance out the kitchen window. And somehow, as I stared at the silhouette of the live oak limbs against the night sky, I felt the answers come to me. They rushed in, faster than I could catch them, and filled my mind. I set the glass down on the kitchen counter and leaned into that image, leaned in and thought and thought and thought.

And then I was giddy. I rushed to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up to Mark, "I have it! The answer for everything!" Sly sci-fi reader he is, he of course yelled back "Is it 42?" before I had a chance to say it wasn't. I knew he was working upstairs (poor man, he is a saint to put up with me), but ran up anyway, to tell him this new development and direction for the book. It's been sitting right there. For four years. It's been right there between the sentences, in the folds of the novel. All the pieces are there, just waiting for it to connect. But until tonight, I hadn't connected them.

My problem was that I have been looking at the book entirely the wrong way--I've been seeing my teenaged girl character as the heroine. And in truth, she is the heroine, and that's how most readers will see her. But in my pitch, I say the book is about three women, and the first woman I list is the girl's mother. When I first conceived the book, it was about the mother, but then the girl took over. And she should take over; I want her to.

BUT--because my original plan was that the mother drive the story, there are a lot of scenes that simply don't make sense if the mother isn't in them. There are a lot of scenes that don't make sense if I look at the story as the girl's. What happened when I looked into that window and saw those oaks (don't ask me how; I never know) was that I realized the original plan was right, and that the mother SHOULD drive the action--for the first part of the novel. Then, at what filmmakers would call Plot Point One, that is where the girl can start to challenge her. Suddenly, when I saw it that way, all the pieces in the puzzle came together. It was like everything began to click beautifully and forcefully into place.

Of course, Mark tells me that was his idea all along, and that he told me that a draft or so ago. I can't remember if he did, but he probably did, and I was too busy not listening. Or I listened and was defensive, or it didn't fit the way I was seeing it, so I discounted it, or any number of other things. But the point is that now I get it. Now I see what's wrong. And the best part is that it's not really going to be that hard to fix! I want the girl to have agency, but she can't have too much agency, not at the beginning. It has to go back and forth.

I get it now--and now I can't wait to fix it!

Comments

Novabella said…
This is our life, isn't it, Kathryn? Links and leaps. Sometimes I wonder what direction my life would have taken if I hadn't been looking out the window in the particular moment that everything seemed to come together.
Robin (the northern one)
blossoming said…
I love the phrase "between the sentences." This sounds like one of those paradigm shifts that make all the difference. It's like one of those 3-D pictures that are hard for me to see, because you have to unfocus your eyes to see it just right. Once you see it, everything falls into place.

Congratulations on all your hard work over the years, which is what brought you to this exciting turning point!

Sophia
Sustained, focused effort -- that really *is* the answer.

Congratulations on the breakthrough, Kathryn!
Joy said…
I agree with Sophia, I love that phrase "between the sentences" and "in the folds of the novel". Thanks for being honest and telling the real original story. You are such an inspiration! Congratulations on your breakthrough!
Mylène said…
"in the folds of the novel"--that was my favorite moment, too. I am so happy for you, Kat. CHARGE!!!
Mylène said…
Also, Kathryn, I was saddened to hear that you now think your dissertation readers did not read the manuscript very closely. Do you think this is because, once they realized it was literary-MAINSTREAM, they thought it was less "deep," and therefore required less depth of attention? If so, I find this disturbing, since mainstream/genre writing can and often does contain much depth, subtext, nuance.
Possibly, Mylene. And to be fair to them, I do think SOME of them read it closely, but they just didn't give me any real COMMENTS. But I don't think it's them; I think it's the whole system of academia. I just got a master's thesis revision myself that I had to start skimming--because the student turned it in the eleventh hour and it was a revision, and I'd already put a ton of time into reading the first draft. So I skimmed to see what she'd changed, and then went down deep into what she hadn't, or what still wasn't working. My readers didn't do that for me, and they did have more time, but they still have lots of other things on their plates. And to be honest, when a student says she's going to write a novel, I bet most of them think "yeah, right," because that is how most students are. Most do not end up with a completely rewritten second draft of a 359-paged first draft of a novel. In fact, I don't know any of my peers who did that. I am definitely the exception, and I think my first readers were a little perplexed at how to handle me. After all, the PhD is supposed to be a learning experience, not necessarily the introduction to someone's life work. The ideal is that it does do that, but I don't think very many students meet the ideal. So when one does, I think it shivers their whole paradigm.

Just my thoughts. Or maybe they did read it and just didn't know how best to tell me to revise.
Steph Gittins said…
Kathryn,
As someone working on the second rewrite of my own novel, I've loved reading about your progress. Thanks for sharing your "ah ha!" moment. I recently had one of my own... while reading a very basic post on Nathan Bransford's blog about plot. Suddenly the pieces fell into place. Good luck with your book; I'm sure it will be fantastic!
ah, Nathan Bransford . . . I think I'm a little in love with that guy. Did you see his latest post? His blogs are the best, although I have to admit they often make me paranoid.

Awesome that you're in the middle of that second rewrite, too. It's such a long, long process, isn't it? And to think--once upon a time, I thought the whole thing would take six months! :)

Word verfication: flogity

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