The Long Haul

Calvin Coolidge pinOne of my favorite quotes, from Calvin Coolidge, has been on my mind of late. It reads thus:

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan, ‘press on’ has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race.”

I’ve been thinking about old Cal and his words of wisdom because as I work away at restructuring Thin Spots I get the distinct feeling this whole novel-writing business is going to take a while. Early on, convinced of my innate storytelling prowess, I thought I could whip up a half-baked outline, spit out about two thousand five hundred pages a week and have the first draft done in under a year.

Then, reality reared its ugly head.

My first hint was when a writing group friend told me she’d heard a tip at a workshop, something about spending eighty percent of your time on structure and about twenty percent on the writing. Things were bubbling along pretty well at that point—I was in the first sections of the book—so in my right ear went the advice and out the left it fell. And for a while, I didn’t miss it.

Then came the first re-plot. It started in my gut, with the uneasy feeling that the story was sliding out from under me, even with my lackadaisical outline to use as a semi-guide. It wasn’t long before I was struggling with the subplot, trying to figure out a reason why the guy’s wife (or sister—it went back and forth for a while) would betray him while he was in a coma. Well, there wasn’t a reason, at least not one I could dream up.

So, along came the first re-plot, with a nefarious coven of warlocks in place of the evil wife-or-sister. This re-plot also included Tanya, a waitress who, in addition to being mighty cute, was a shaman capable of traveling through different planes of reality. With these changes in mind, I tweaked the novel’s structure, but again left off after I’d gotten about halfway through the work, figuring I’d clean up all those ugly plot holes while I wrote. No problem, right? Innate storytelling prowess, remember?

Welcome to re-plot number two.

I loved Tanya, but she was just too much. She was a super-hero, really, intruding into a story about a guy who gets his soul sent to Hell, through no fault of his own, while his body remains alive on Earth. And as I looked more closely, I realized that all the plane-travelling shenanigans weren’t moving the plot forward. So I bid Tanya farewell and started again. Now the romantic interest is in already Hell when Colin (the hero) gets there and has a role in the motion of the story.

Slowly and carefully now go I, creeping along scene by scene. What’s next? What makes sense? Where’s the conflict here? Would this character really do that thing. Mark a question here, a hole there. It’s a lot of work, this plotting, but I’m finding it fun and starting to see how making a few passes through it could make my life much easier. I’m reading a couple of books about technique to help me out. They are Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success, by K.M. Weiland, and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Both authors are actual published novelists, not folks who only write how-to books for novelists and I’m profiting from both reads.

I’ll keep working on it and, with luck, I’ll be writing prose again by September. Or maybe October. I’m in this for the long haul, gang, betting that Coolidge was right.

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