Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One Character Can "Make or Break" a Story

It was bound to happen. I was due. I was naive to think that somehow I would escape the dreaded need to rewrite a book. Not a few chapters or paragraphs, but the whole book. It happened! 

Sometimes life interferes, our focus shifts, work and family take priority, and all we can do is struggle to get the book written. Our imaginations are itching to be unleashed, but our thoughts are bogged down by day-to-day nuisances. It doesn't matter what happens - we keep writing. 

Blackwood Crossing has been one of my most challenging books. I honestly don't know why. Don't get me wrong, I love this story and can't wait to write the third book in the series. However, with the first draft I just didn't "feel" it. The heroine was not  likeable, but I ignored it. I rewrote a few things, but I needed a good kick to the brain, and I knew that wasn't going to come from within. I sent it off to the editor and let my mother read the first draft. I can't say I was surprised when both agreed it wasn't quite right (translation - fix it). 

That's what I did, or thought I was doing. I rewrote the first three chapters and tossed out the old. Seriously, they met the shredding pile (then I pulled the chapters out because I can use some of it for the next book). Anyway, with those rewrites I ended up developing an entirely new plot with new sub-plots. This would mean that every single word would have to be rewritten. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but there was a problem. I liked the original story, but it was still missing something. 

I went back to the original story.

Aha! The main problem was with the heroine. This wasn't an easy fix. I thought I understood her motives, her personality, and her goals. She turned out to be someone I wouldn't want to know if given the chance. She needed to be softened and more sympathetic without losing the traits which made her strong. I erased all original thoughts and images of her, and immersed myself in this new personality. Whew - it worked. Now she's someone I'd call friend, and whose journey I wanted to follow. It turns out that she didn't have to change, but my way of looking at her did.

My work wasn't over. It might come as a surprise how much has to be changed when a character gets a makeover. Events and people around her also changed because her course, her outcomes, and her reactions all shifted. No problem. I'm always up for a challenge. At least I could still use the rewritten first chapters with minor changes.

The result? I was able to keep my original story (well, most of it), but what a world of difference altering one character can make. 

Will readers enjoy the story as much as I do? Perhaps, perhaps not, but it was an adventure for me to walk the path of Rhona and Charles. I like to refer to the British Agent novels as my challenge stories. The subject and settings are ones I enjoy, but I have to step outside my comfort zone with the British Agent romantic mysteries. They don't come as easily as the westerns, and yet in their own unique way, I love these characters as dearly as I love the Gallaghers.

I believe we as readers can tell when an author hasn't enjoyed writing a book. As writers reading our own material, it's not always easy to pick up on that, but if you give the story some time to settle, you'll be able to pinpoint what doesn't feel right. Too often a book is sent to print because of deadlines, but when an author has the time to go back, rewrite, and immerse themselves in the story over and over again, success and enjoyment are more easily achieved. 

I am grateful for a great support team who understands that sometimes authors need to take a few rocky, and perhaps temperamental, steps in order to reach our goals.

As a writer, have you ever had a difficult or challenging book but came out the other side better and stronger and for it? Have you ever had one character who "messed" with your story and required a major rewrite? 

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