Sometimes You Have to Freeze Your Characters in Carbonite (Don’t Worry, It’s Temporary)

What a difference one week makes! If you read last week’s blog, I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo and nervous about starting. Not because of the whole 50,000 words in a month thing. I did it last year, so how hard could it be to do it again?

What I was worried about was finishing last year’s NaNo novel in time to move on to the sequel, which is this year’s NaNo novel. I was still deep in my last edit, and although I didn’t have many pages to go, I was at the crucial point where I needed to make the most drastic changes.

During the editing process, I cut almost 50,000 words (ironic – don’t you think? – since that’s the number I need to type this month). Cutting I can do all day. But the closer I got to the end, the more it became like slogging through verbal quicksand. It was the part of the editing process that I dreaded most. I had quite a bit of hard work ahead of me. On the one hand, I still needed to cut 3000 words, and on the other, I needed to add to the ending to improve it.

Then something wonderful happened, something that I hope happens many times this month (although it hasn’t yet): I had a brainwave. Whenever I read a novel with a plot twist or a really clever scene, I wonder if it was always a part of the plan or if it developed over time or maybe if it popped up out of nowhere, just in time to save the story. And while I’m not saying that I came up with something brilliant like the vanishing cabinet in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, this brainwave explained some of the points that I was afraid would never gel. This included making quite a few cuts and changing the ending even more than planned, and I just couldn’t stay up long enough to finish. Editing when you’re half asleep isn’t always in the best interest of the story, but on the plus side, I got to sleep on the brainwave.

November first, the first day of National Novel Writing Month, wasn’t much better. I had my weekly editing work for Fiction Fix and my son’s t-ball game. When the afternoon rolled around and I finally got a chance to edit, I would fix a scene, move on, add some more, realize that this affected an earlier scene, go back, rewrite again… and stare at the computer screen a lot as I tried to figure it all out.

I finally got it, finally realized exactly how it needed to end, and it dovetailed perfectly with the opening of the second book.

Half of my goals from last week were in the bag: I’d finished editing and gotten my word count under 100,000.

And as soon as I finished, I was supposed open up a brand new document and leave my editing hat at the proverbial door. Forget cutting! Now is the time for extraneous adverbs and adjectives. For people to ask sweetly and say quietly and walk quickly and wear elaborate gowns with one hundred buttons down the back, belled sleeves, and sweetheart necklines. Sometimes you have to break all your rules in order to get the job done – and tell your inner editor to shut up while you do it.

Typing that first page was painful. All I could think was, This isn’t a good opening line! No one will ever read beyond this.

And that’s how it’s been all week. My inspiration has just kind of fizzled. I’ve kept up with my word count, but the only reason I’ve been able to do so was because I typed over 4000 words that first day. I’ve seen a lot of things that need the axe. Even as I type, I think, This’ll get cut in the next draft.

But not in this one. Right now, I must plow on. It may be a tough slog the whole month. At least I’ve figured out why, not that it really helps. You see, I’m in the second book slump. This happens in trilogies. Okay, instant fix: don’t write a trilogy. It’s not that simple, though. My story needs to be told that way. And I’m not saying that all middle books should be thrown away, but often it’s necessary for the plot to slow or tough things to happen in order for better things to happen later in the trilogy. And so I think that the writing process naturally reflects some of the difficulties within the story. (And besides, it can happen in series with more than three books. Think about New Moon from the The Twilight Saga or Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: necessary but often painful to read.)

The best example I can think of actually comes from the movie Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back. First of all, what happened to Mark Hamill? Yeah, he’s still a stud, running around the swamps of Dagobah with Yoda on his back and all, but he’s not nearly as cute as in the first movie. Plus he loses an arm (Luke Skywalker, I mean, not Mark Hamill). And then Han Solo turns into a carbonite-cicle. It’s depressing stuff. If you’re a Star Wars fan, you still love it, but yikes. Thank goodness for Return of the Jedi, right?

And that’s what I have to keep in mind. There will be ups for every down. And the great light at the end of the tunnel is my book three, but I can’t get too distracted by that right now because, God-willing, I won’t start on it until NaNoWriMo 2015. What I need is to get through this book – not just get through but give it the attention it deserves, see it on its own terms rather than compared with its companions.

There is a time for choosing my words with great care, for analyzing and fine-tuning, but November is not one of those times. Editor, hop in the backseat. Writer, say whatever you want because you can always cut it out and make it pretty later. After all, the great thing about first drafts is that you can make all the mistakes you want and fix them before anyone finds out. My inner editor needs to take a forced month-long vacation, so I can get some work done.

3 thoughts on “Sometimes You Have to Freeze Your Characters in Carbonite (Don’t Worry, It’s Temporary)

  1. releaf1954 says:

    And now you’re in the second week slump in the second book slump. It could be a dark time, but I know you’ll get through it. You’re doing better than I am if you’re managing to stick to one coherent story. Mine is all over the place, but I’m still plugging away. Sometimes, it’s even fun. 😊

  2. […] forward to this year: last week I wrote about middle-of-a-trilogy blues. I get stuck constantly. I carry my MacBook with me everywhere […]

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