Monday, July 11, 2011

Self-Published Author Lesson Learned: Don't Become TOO Attached to THAT Ending

"And they lived happily ever after...THE END."

Writing a draft isn't hard. FINISHING a draft is Herculean. 

I have learned a very hard lesson after weeks of dragging my feet, ignoring my manuscript... just willing it to be finished. That doesn't really work, by the way. There is no Jedi Mind trick to make the book write itself. 

Result: I was too committed to my ending to finish my book. 
I write out of order. The first scene I ever wrote of this current incarnation of CANCELLED is the final crisis where the baby is born. Then I went back and wrote the beginning. Then I wrote a few pivotal scenes in the middle. Then wrote more of the ending after the baby is born. And finally, hunkered down to fill in the gaps sequentially. All with a master outline that had each scene where it is supposed to go. It was kinda like a jigsaw puzzle. I had the final picture (the outline), but I needed to write the pieces one by one, thus sticking them in the puzzle. I began with the edges first (the major scenes that couldn't really change in subject matter or function without dramatically impacting the story).

Then I got to the part of the puzzle where you are almost done, only three or four pieces left but you only have two in your hand. Where did those two lost pieces go? You check under the box, under the table. Finally, after a few minutes you find you were sitting on them, or they were under the puzzle itself. Except my 5 minutes was a few days.

Here was my solution. Reduce the number of pieces I needed. OH NO! THAT'S REARRANGING THE ENTIRE PUZZLE!!!! No, it's not. My story is strong enough that it took it like a champ. A few details will change here and there, but now I get from where Johnathan's fiancee finds out about the baby to the time the baby is born MUCH quicker, just by adjusting when Johnathan is told about the baby by two months. The easiest way to shift this is now my first scene doesn't happen January 27, but December 17. Now, the story remains the same, Kellie still tells Johnathan about the baby, but it's not until March, after she has confirmed without a doubt she is pregnant and likely to carry the baby to term. Now, Alex still finds out about the baby at the end of June, but the baby is born the third week of August, not the third week of September. And most importantly, I can STOP trying to fill a month's worth of "story time" with silly scenes that feel forced, even to me.

If I had an agent, or a publisher, I probably would have had the resources earlier to tell me "Elizabeth, this is too big of a gap from second crisis to final crisis." As an indie, I had some writer friends on Twitter who sparked the solution.

Now, just because changing this major aspect in my story is convenient, doesn't automatically make it the right thing to do. But I've checked against my characterizations. Moving the timetable a little makes Johnathan look a little less like a monster when he keeps the secret from Alex. It fits with Kellie's personality as well, and her fears about what Johnathan might or might not do. Plot wise this strengthens many scenes that I had arranged as kind of a stretch. For example, after celebrating his birthday and having the one-night stand, he leaves to go on vacation with his stepmother in France. This happening over the Christmas holiday makes more sense, and intensifies the jealousy his mother shows at the end of Chapter 2. It also underscores the importance of Johnathan and Anna to one another, especially after the death of his father four years ago, without coming across as oedipal. And when she brings a boyfriend along, and he is jealous because he doesn't have a loved one at Christmas (and who doesn't feel that way being single on the holidays), it intensifies his desire for Alexis. 

Therefore, keep nothing sacred in your first draft. Not even the most important plot element in the story. But, make sure a change isn't just convenience for convenience sake. The change must make the story a stronger and more compelling tale for the reader.  :)

Now I get to dive in and make a ridiculous amount of changes, and close up that little hole left by two missing puzzle pieces.

"CANCELLED" arriving SEPTEMBER 2011A robotics engineer asks his business partner to marry him, but a previous one-night stand is having his baby.


  1. Well done! It's hard chopping limbs off your baby, but it usually makes them stronger!

  2. I'm picturing you with your fist beating on the pages of your outline to make them fit. LOL It's pretty funny. Personally, I just don't fill that time. I don't change the dates, I just end chapter here, start chapter over there. Readers understand that life goes on, uninterestingly in that gap ;) I do it all the time in my most recent MS. And he starts at school, Day 2, second chapter, Chapter 3... rest of first week. Chapter 4, yeah, it's 2-3 weeks later. Chapter 5, whoa, is it Halloween already? Damn, I didn't get a costume. and so on. ;) I just jump the intervening time. Not that changing dates for your story is a 'bad' thing, maybe it makes everything fit that much better, but I'm more a fan of fade to black scene changes.

  3. I think the difficulty I DIDN'T count on was that a pregnancy has a natural timeline to it. My MC has to learn of paternity via amniocentesis, and that happens between week 16 and week 22 at the latest. Plus, the baby's early birth coincides with his engagement dinner, really forcing him to make that choice: his future wife or his daughter?

    I've already written two new scenes earlier on to address the timing issue. Now, the drama is MUCH more believable because the timetable is shortened. :) But yes, my outline is literally in tatters (the paper version). My two-year-old has gotten a hold of it a few times because I was trying to fix it and it was left out. So there's "her" notes in crayon (yes, I'm saving it to show her later).