One of the things about being deeply immersed in the first draft of a novel is how it is virtually impossible to get a grip on the overarching theme that holds everything together. I begin every day’s writing with a sense of what is going to happen in the immediate scene that is approaching, but for anything further down the line, it starts to get a little hazy.
This is good in a way, but causes problems in another. As I’ve written many times before, not knowing with complete certainty what is going to happen is exciting. I’m as eager to find out as anyone else. And you would hope that if I can’t work it out, when the novel comes to be read by someone else, they will react in the same manner.
The downside of this method is twofold. Firstly, it’s very easy to overwrite. As the characters start to come alive and make decisions on their own, I find that most of my job at that point is simply running to keep up. I’m taking down as much as I can of their actions, but in the moment, I have no idea whether what they are doing is important or not. Some of it surely will be, but a vast swathe will not. Good editing will eradicate most of the superflous stuff, if you have a sturdy mind and the ability to get rid of something even if it’s the best paragraph you’ve ever written. The length of my latest novel is already getting out of control, heading for 150,000 words with no end in sight, but if I can be disciplined, that will be substantially cut in the first edit. Applying the ‘show, don’t tell’ principle to its core will do a lot of the work.
So far then, so good. But the second risk is that the manuscript disappears so far down the rabbit hole it’s impossible to see the way out. My manuscript is written from three characters perspectives, in overlapping time and with a substantial amount of back story to refer to. The pitfalls are enormous – not just making sure that character motivation is realistic, but also that their actions are based on what they know. All the protaganists have turned out more devious, secretive and opportunistic than I envisaged, so it’s a constant struggle trying to remember the secrets they have and what has and hasn’t been revealed in their interactions with others.
This tangled thicket is one that would be easy to become trapped in, and I fear that I’m vulnerable to its grip. I feel I am juggling so many balls in the air already, and I’m sure they will be further unseen twists to come that will make my job all the more difficult. And this trap is one that is so much harder to deal with in a re-write. Not only will the novel need paring, but substantial scenes will need to be completely rewritten to ensure the threads all tie up. Which could lead to a maze of deadends, like trying to work out a sudoku when you’ve added a wrong number somewhere along the way.
For now though it’s a case of full steam ahead. The clock has ticked up to nearly ten months on this novel, and I need it finished. WIth the right mindset, and a careful analysis of back story, I can hopefully avoid mistakes of motivation and emerge from the rabbit hole with a coherent story intact.