Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Fight for Focus

So, I'm working on this book proposal to get it ready for submission, and things are taking odd turns. I'd sent the first 60 or so pages to my agent, and she loved it, but said it would be a stronger submission if I could have the first 100 pages ready. I said that would be easy because since I sent it to her, I'd kept writing, and I had that much written already. I'd just need to finish a big scene and do some overall polishing on it. Then I mentioned that I had it planned as a trilogy, and she asked me to write a short synopsis for each of the next two books. No problem, I thought.

Then I re-read what I'd written, and I've ended up cutting huge sections from what I'd written after sending the beginning to her. Some of that was kind of a relief. I suppose it's a bad sign if I can't make myself get into a scene and if it feels good to decide I don't have to write it. If you can't make it interesting and if it isn't essential to the plot, then it probably doesn't need to be there. But I've found it hard to move forward, and yesterday I diagnosed the problem. There was this one scene earlier that wasn't quite right, and it set the tone for the rest. Until I got that right, nothing that came after it would work. That meant a lot of pen-and-paper work to get into the narrator character's head and consider how she really would think and react and how the other characters would act in response to what she did. I think I've got it figured out, so now I need to actually write it.

Unfortunately, yesterday seemed to be a non-functioning day. My subconscious was probably busy because the oddest things seemed to distract me. At one point in the afternoon, I was sitting on my dining room floor, listening to a "great moments in opera" CD. I'm not entirely sure how that came about. I think I was going to the kitchen to refill my mug of tea, saw the CD along the way and stopped to put it in the player that's in the dining room. Fifteen minutes later, I realized I never got that tea. I had a similar problem when I was getting dressed to go to choir. I'd start doing one thing, then get sidetracked until I remembered the time and what I was supposed to be doing. Usually when I get like that, it means there's something cooking in my head that's keeping the mental squirrels preoccupied, and it's siphoning off power from my conscious brain. You should have seen the fight for focus when I was trying to direct five-year-olds in playing handbells, and then when we had one group playing handbells and the other playing jingle bells (we're practicing Christmas music). I'm not sure I'm mentally coordinated enough to pull that off even when functioning on all cylinders.

One of the challenges for the book I'm working on is that the heroine/narrator is extremely intelligent but also extremely naive, at least at the beginning. It's interesting trying to convey her innocence without making her look too stupid to live. She knows a lot of stuff and learns quickly, but she's also been very sheltered, so she doesn't know how the world really works. Then there are times when I'm trying to fit in clues that I hope the reader might catch but that the heroine doesn't yet see the significance of. She lacks cynicism, so she doesn't tend to be suspicious of things, unless it's the kind of thing that might happen in either classic literature or dime novels. So she'll think to ask what became of the previous governess when interviewing for a position (just to rule out "driven mad by a ghost," since that seems to happen all the time in books) but she can't tell when someone is setting her up or using her when they act like they have her best interests at heart. It's a very fine line to walk, and if I end up on the wrong side of the line, the scene goes wrong in such a way that it affects everything that comes after it. What I realized I needed to do in this critical scene was work through the progression of her thought process. She might not know what's going on from the start, but she does begin to put two and two together along the way. Doing that means killing another entire scene later.

I'm hoping the subconscious squirrels will have done their jobs and everything will just flow when I get to work today. I have a lot to write now that I've laid waste to so many pages.

1 comment:

littlehouseofpenguins said...

The new novel sounds really good! I love the idea of the intelligent but sheltered heroine figuring out how things work but missing subtext because of her inexperience. I can't wait to read it.

I haven't commented in a while, because we just moved into a new house and I have a newborn, so life's pretty busy, but I just read a bunch of the "hero's journey" posts and I really love that you're posting it. It's a great summary and very interesting (I was thinking about Harry Potter when you talked about allies, enemies, and tests, and then you referenced that as well!). I love reading about the craft of writing from you (and also from Holly Lisle, she's got some good books on it). Keep it up!