Writing Fiction: Going the Other Way

If you ever want to try the maze at Hampton Court, there’s a very simple solution – so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know it. Always head away from the centre. It’s a classic of the maze-maker’s art. The brain wants to go one way; the right choice is the other.

Some posts ago, I was talking about the liberating experience of giving up a piece of writing which I had held onto for several years (‘Pace and Poetry’). In the last post I talked about receiving an editor’s report which called for a far more radical change. It identified something which I know to be true but goes to the heart of what I write: an overwhelming sense of gloom. Normally, this is balanced by humour, but sit me in front of a plot for too long and I’ll create something that is heading downhill fast. And before anyone steps in with examples of the many successful gloomy books – high five, Dostoevsky – please bear in mind that this is something that has always been a concern for me.

The issue is highlighted in the main male character. A gloom merchant and, any way you cut it, not much fun to be with. Every agent and editor who has read the novel has identified this character as a problem. I have too (see posts passim). But I’ve got a solution. A forty-eight-year-old male character, is about to become a twenty-nine-year-old female. I’ve started writing her, and she’s a great joy. Nothing is perfect in her life, she complains a great deal, but her sheer vim and vigour make her a delight to write. I could be wrong. Maybe, after a few chapters I’ll find she doesn’t work, but I suspect not.

Trouble is, this means re-writing at least half to three-quarters of the novel. But fuck it. Six years of noodling around with the original character have not borne fruit. Swathes of writing will need to go by the board. But the pay-off will be what it has always been: learning how to write; gaining confidence; finding, ironically, my own style.

My brain is desperate to take the easy way, make a few alterations and resubmit. But my wiser self says no, we’re going the other way.


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