When All Else Fails, Go to the Source

Yesterday I had one of those amazing days in a writers' life--the day it all makes sense. In our world, eureka moments are few, but they do happen, and sometimes, in a few rare precious instances, we even brush up against the Divine.

Ever since I turned in my semester grades, I've been kvetching over the novel. That's why you haven't seen me for a few days; I've been in both query and structure hell. The query hell started when I saw Nathan Bransford's post on the one sentence, one paragraph, and two paragraph pitch, and realized I had a lot of trouble doing those. Last Wednesday I was totally freaking out, telling Mark I was doomed because "there is no way I can sum up this novel in one pithy sentence." I have done it before--did it when I met the two agents who came to UH, but I never felt that sentence really expressed the true pulse of the book. And one paragraph? Two paragraphs? How could I do that when there are three point of view characters?

But the more I looked at Nathan's post, the more I realized he was right. The reason I was having a problem is that in the first part of the book, the characters' motivations are a little fuzzy. Sure, I had tried to impose a "hero's quest" on Draft 2, and it even sort of worked, but it felt grafted onto the novel. It didn't arise from the material that was actually there.

That was it. That was the problem with the story. But how could I make the motivations clear and still keep the characters sympathetic and believable? I'm taking a big risk in this novel by telling part of it from the point of view of a woman who is so addicted to sympathy that she is willing to harm both her daughter and herself. If I have her drive the first part of the story as I now want to, I worry I will vilify her. And in some ways, she is the villain. But I also want the daughter to have agency too, and not be just a victim. And then there's the problem of how to get the third POV character into the novel, the young, newbie Lutheran pastor, who ends up caught up in the others' web.

I sat and sat and could not figure it out. After several days of this, I decided to take a break and go to Galveston. For the first time since my injury in March, I've been able to drive longer than a few minutes, and I took advantage of it to go back to the Galveston graveyard, the source of inspiration for the novel.

I wish I could say I parked my car and got out and walked among those yellow wildflowers, but as soon as I started to drive in, the ideas started flooding, and I ended up driving straight through. I drove and drove until I ended up in a little cafe at a table with a view of the beach. I ordered some coffee, yanked out my notebook, and scribbled the new structure. I have no idea where it came from. Like the original idea for the novel, it just came. And it's not that different from what I had before--will mostly require the addition of and deletion of short scenes. But only one brand new chapter and a bit of distancing of point of view. And it has the added bonus of developing all the subplots and solving a couple of huge holes in the plot later on.

In the end, I was surprised the solution was so simple. But the answer has been there, beneath and between the lines. I knew it was. I just had to find the pulse and track it back to its beating heart.

Photo credit: Jim Semonik


Ronlyn Domingue said…
I remember the night my first novel snapped into place, well into the fourth draft. One image which emerged into one scene--and as a bonus, the new title for the book. For ten minutes, I couldn't stop shaking. Good times.

Congratulations on the watershed moment! Enjoy this part of the journey.
Joy said…
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. You are SUCH an inspiration! Now I can still feel inspired, even though I have to cut my research trip really REALLY short. Awesome as always.
It's amazing how a change of scenery can shift your thinking. I'm glad to hear you're feeling a little better, too. Good news all around!
Terri said…
What a wonderful insight. Thanks

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