Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Who said you can’t change horses in the middle of the stream?

Hi there! Sorry Type M fans that I missed last week’s post, but I was desperately trying to keep my head above water with two large graphic design projects due, as well as the manuscript of my new Orca Book Publishers novella to complete (and at that point, it was frighteningly behind schedule. Ah, the joys of trying to keep two full-time jobs going!

But I have a little breathing room this week. The Orca ms is now completed – if not finalized – and I’ve tamed one of the design beasts.

Now, a very curious thing happened as I began writing the penultimate chapter of The Boom Room on Friday morning. I had all my “plot ducks” in a row: clues placed, red herrings (ditto), what little background information I could squeeze in to make the solution to the mystery credible. I was ready to take a deep breath and “get ’er done”. Since I was having to work so fast, I’d been making lots of little notes to myself so I could keep everything together and avoid stumbles.

I wrote about half a page of that chapter, then stopped, literally in mid-sentence. It suddenly dawned on me that the wrong person had committed the murder and for the wrong reason. Huh? Where had that come from? But it was a brilliant little idea. Basically, I was now faced with having to completely upend my carefully structured plot, dumping the whole thing in the old creative blender and hitting frappé. That sure stopped me in my tracks.

I went outside and sat in the backyard looking at the logistics of turning my plot inside out. With time short, the first question was: Should I even do this? It would mean rewriting whole swathes of the story,  picking up all the little details, asides, and dialogue where they would need to be changed.

Fortunately, I was working with a manuscript that can’t exceed 20,000 words. Faced with a 100,000-word ms, I might have seriously considered avoiding the whole mess.

The thing was, this change and what it would do to the whole tenor of the book had me really excited. The ending would be much stronger, an ultimate tweak to the nose of my readers thinking they had everything worked out. [I don’t know if I’m right about that yet, but my two “first-glance” readers/editors will be sure to let me know in that regard.]

I finally decided that the book would be much better with my completely-changed focus and conclusion, so I went back in the house, took a deep breath and got to the task of completely disassembling my manuscript and making the necessary changes. I worked many hours over Friday night, as much of Saturday as I could manage, well into the wee hours of the night. After a couple of errands on Sunday morning, I set to work writing that now totally different penultimate chapter, and then the final wrap-up one. At 4:27 p.m. that day I put in the final period and heaved a large sigh of relief.

Now, to all of you, my question this week is this: have you ever had this happen to you? It certainly was unknown territory for moi, and sort of frightening in that I didn’t even have an inkling it was coming. I had to include a chapter by chapter summary when submitting the novella proposal to Orca, and I’ve now completely shredded that, so there’s some additional risk. But I’m betting there won’t be too much of a problem when my editor there sees the results of my massive change of direction.

Has this every happened to you?

PS: You probably know now that I really like soul and funk music in particular. As a matter of fact I play in one of those musical outfits whenever I’m in the New York area. “Don’t Change Horses in the Middle of the Stream” is one of my favourite tunes by arguably the greatest funk band ever, Tower of Power. Here’s a link to it. While I was working my way through those tumultuous changes this past weekend, the song was looping over and over in my poor beleaguered brain.


Susan Elizabeth said...

I had a similar type of epiphany with my book last week - I decided that the story needs to be told from the 1st person POV of the three main characters, rather than 3rd person (which also means booting the perspective of a 4th person). It seems to be tedious, but also to be flowing in a much better direction.

Best of luck with your re-drafting!

Toe Hallock said...

Hey Rick: Thank you for your honesty in how a true writer works. It gives me the confidence to keep plugging away. Rewrite is a scary word to us tyros. But I realize now that it's a necessary part of the business. Yours truly, Toe.