I am always slightly amazed when things I had intended to do actually happen. Normally, it’s just me plodding forwarded through a hailstorm of self-doubt. Ten days ago, I set out to put one-line summaries of all the old and new chapters of my novel onto Post-its, so that I could sort out the new structure. Yesterday, I finished – hoorah!
It may sound like a simple enough task, but the problem I had faced was that, in a novel of alternating points-of-view, the established character, Elspeth, had eighteen chapters; the new one, Joy, now had forty. There were all sorts of meanderings and shenanigans.
The first thing I did was to set the Post-its aside. It was clear that, initially, a temporary format wouldn’t be enough. I needed a reference document where I could note chapter numbers and any amendments, as well as the basic plot line. I created a table on Word, one column for each character. Just seeing the names there, side-by-side, Elspeth and Joy, I felt a real sense of potential. I know a lot more about Joy now and together they complement one another. The story is quite different to what I envisioned when I started writing six years ago.
I had intended to leave the discarded character’s (Barry) chapters out of Elspeth’s column. But I realised it would raise questions for me about the original structure when it came to review. I also found it helpful to mark the quarter, half and three-quarter points in the story.
Two things immediately became apparent. First, Joy, a comedian, needed an opening chapter setting out clearly who she is. Secondly, there was no obvious point at which she had agreed to work with Elspeth – and she lacked a convincing motivation to do so.
Transferring the chapters from columns to Post-its, each character’s point-of-view chapters got a different colour. This made it obvious where there was doubling, or lack of balance. Some nice shortcuts presented themselves, and I was able to drop a chapter I’ve always had a problem with. I read the order of the first-quarter chapters out to my girlfriend, and it was interesting to watch her reaction and get feedback.
Overall, I’m pleased. A project to rewrite the novel, that started in January, is on track. I like the new character, she brings energy that was lacking.
Onward to the next stage. There are chapters to create, rewrite and edit. Eventually I’ll have a pre-draft draft. One that needs just one more polish to be declared a finished version.