When Your Novel Pulls The Rug Out From Under Your Feet: an Update
Sometimes I feel like our novels have more control over the story than we do.
Like, I feel as though our novels can totally just flip the tables at any given time– the characters can go on a rampage and completely replot the ending, for example.
This has been especially true lately for me, in the middle of my messy editing process!
And this past week, things just went all Switchyroony™ with the novel.
[ This is now a phrase, I have just invented it. Congratulations, you have witnessed the invention, it is now a coined phrase, and you are totally welcome to use it ]
Things happened™, and it’s something I want to share with you as I continue to inch towards my dream.
So here’s practically everything that’s happened recently with my project.
Think of this like an awfully put together status update from your local Violet™, as she works tirelessly to get her novel into the world.
For the past while, I’ve been going through my novel and writing down absolutely every event and significant detail in a spiral-bound journal.
[ With hand-drawn glitter and sparkles. Because it’s who I am. ]
We had it printed in Editing Form™, in its 570-ish paged glory, double-spaced with a two inch margin on the side and all. Following that, I spent a while trying to figure how to cut it into sections.
(Which is actually a funny side note, because looking back I realised that I hadn’t written chapter breaks in.
…instead, I had done this messy “9 section” concept, because past me thought that made me sound so professional, cool and awesome. Yet, none of the sections are equal: some are upwards of 36k, and some are as small as 2k. What a mess, what a mess. )
I kept my weird edgy sections, and I’ve been going through each one on its own and writing down each and every event, using arrows & sparkle symbols to distinguish things (of course).
[ And section G was a literal nightmare, for the record. Yikes ]
It’s been going fairly well and all, except now I’ve gotten through about half the story and my brain is getting sluggish. My mind blanks if I think about sitting down to write down more events.
So, we (my mom and I) decided I should try another style of writing everything out in order to refresh my brain.
For me, that meant mapping out my plot on a big sheet of butcher paper and colouring different plot lines, so that we could see where things fell through and where things were focused on too much, etc etc.
And we almost did that! Almost. We even went and acquired a giant roll of white butcher paper for it. (Which was actually way cheaper than I thought it’d be, thank you Hobby Lobby.)
But, first I’d have to identify my subplots to do that, since each would have a different colour and I really couldn’t mix those up. The whole point of that style is to see all the where things do and don’t fall through based on all of the colours, right?
the Magical Realisation™
…and this is where the Realisation™ happens.
Because, as I identified each plot, something obvious crawled out of the darkness and slapped me in the face.
My main plot can’t exist without the subplot.
The main plot depends on a subplot to literally exist– and if you take the most prominent subplot, which is Callix and how her family complicates everything, my main plot literally can’t exist.
Literally, it doesn’t work. Can’t do it. No story.
Try taking Callix’s storyline out, I dare you, and you would… end up with a black void. No story at all.
Which… isn’t quite how main plots and subplots generally work?
Usually, a main plot should be able to generally stand on its own, and its subplots (to my understanding) should serve as ways to further entangle the main plot in what it’s in, to make things worse or more complicated.
But Callix is actually the backbone of this story– imagine my surprise the last few days to really realise this– and she is the most important, for a lot of reasons I don’t want to spoil. But the story can’t exist with her.
Hmmmmmmmmm, do you see where I’m going?
Alright, the way I write is really, really weird. I wouldn’t be surprised if you guys knew that already.
I can’t plan a story and actually successfully write it to save my life.
The planning itself? Sure, I could do it. I could work incredibly hard and come out of it with a decent plot. But could I actually end up writing the story? Nope.
Stories have to be written from scratch, for me, without a clue who or what I’m going to encounter.
I discover those things as I go. I throw foreshadowing out into the water and see which ones float. I get to know the characters just like the reader would reading it for the first time.
I write incredibly strangely– and the reason for this is complicated to explain (as well as it makes me sound like a lazy toad, but I’m neither lazy nor a toad, nor the two combined), but I’ve learned that it’s how I work and I would be a foolish dingbat to try to write any differently.
Mainly, it’s because when I think about a plot before I write it, I end up overthinking it and ruining my ability to write it. The story falls through, nine times of of ten.
Writing like this is very different from the average writer– and I’ve slowly come to learn how to work with it, over the years.
I mean, I’ve been writing stories since I was old enough to press buttons on a keyboard, back when I didn’t even know what they meant. Surely, you’d think by now I’d know exactly how I work when I write stories.
But… nope. This whole thing has taught me a huge thing about how I work that I had no idea about until now.
I’ve learned that I write super, duper strangely. I mean, clearly I already do– but I mean in another way.
Often, when I write a story, I focus on a character who I care about. That’s obvious, I think we all do– but what happens is I focus so much on the character who I wanted to, focus so much on can’t overthink this character, must not plan them— that everything else about my story that I don’t “focus on” becomes complex.
That sounds silly, but it’s happened every time.
My magic series, for example, focused on Scarlet, of course– and Scarlet was my most developed character! But Scarlet’s plot… is actually bland. And her story can’t stand on its own– not without a subplot I developed to accompany her.
Skip back in time to any other time I’ve written a story, and I do the same thing.
And it’s just the thing that happened now. I focused so much on writing Jack’s story, so much on trying not to “overthink” it… that everything else became more complicated as I developed it– but only could because I wasn’t “focusing” on it.
My brain works strangely.
But it means a big scary thing:
Jack and Eli are not the main story.
Callix is the main story.
Callix’s story is what holds the novel up, is the big deal, is the true star of the show– and Jack’s plot is merely a sideshow act.
Which is freaking wild to find out, because I’ve been writing Jack’s story for two and a half years now. And not one minute did I ever stop to consider what really made sense for the story.
Basically… Jack and Eli really aren’t the story I should be telling.
Which is terrifying to admit out loud. My story has always been the same, for the longest time:
Jack, the boy who wakes up with no memories, who barely has the time to befriend his neighbour before the both of them are summoned to a soulmate society 15.5 billion light years away.
And I love them so much? I’ve been writing them for two and a half years. They’re my children, and I want to hold them and protect them from the world.
But this is Callix’s story. And for all the times I felt like I wasn’t doing her character justice… I have a feeling this is why.
Which brings me to the big, giant scary conclusion: I need to tell Callix’s story.
And, I need to write it from her perspective.
I’ve decided to completely pause on my efforts with my past drafts and move to working on writing a draft from her perspective.
The story’s all there– and it’s the same story. But there’s more to it, and there are some parts I absolutely can’t share in Jack’s perspective.
Things like: Callix’s past. Callix’s past is very, very crucial to the novel– and isn’t something Jack can summarise.
Jack’s perspective served me only two angles I thought I couldn’t serve otherwise: to show his confusion as someone with absolutely no memories (yep!), and to show his confusion surrounding the concept of him having a soulmate.
However, I can show both in different forms. Jack’s still going to be the same angsty teenager trying to figure himself out, likely. (Likely is a fun word, I’m going to use it and say no more.)
And it’s funny, because there are parts of Jack’s story that gave me a funny feeling when I wrote them– like maybe I wasn’t supposed to write them yet or at all.
[ I’ll be talking more on gut feelings & things I’ve learned from all of this next week, to be honest. ]
All of this is kind of mind blowing for me.
Plus, it was really hard to come to the conclusion that it would be better for the story if I were to put Jack and Eli aside and focus instead on Callix.
This is probably one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn so far: doing what’s best for the story more than anything else.
And this isn’t the only lesson I’ve learned– next week I’ll share more.