Monday, 5 September 2011

Theory vs. practice

I can’t believe it’s only a week since I sat down to re-read my complete manuscript.  I feel as if I’ve been rewriting for ever!  This is the point at which all the theory goes out the window and it comes down to good, old-fashioned slogging.  I did reread Elizabeth Lyon’s book Manuscript Makeover, which is excellent, although her advice on revising time slips with a parallel plot is rather daunting: “Double the story lines and double your trouble.  Double the protagonists and double your trouble.  You have written two books.”  Oh, yes, and why did I think that would be a good idea??

“One frequent problem is that the reader may find one of the stories, or protagonists, far more appealing than the other.  The development, stakes, setting, or personality of one hero may be weak by comparison.  For whatever reasons, your writing might come alive in one story and not in the other.”  Weird.  It’s almost as if she’s read my manuscript.  For reasons I don’t quite understand, my story in the past is much stronger than the story in the present, although it was the historical aspect of the story I was most concerned about when I started.  But that bit just wrote itself.  I’ve hardly changed anything from the rough draft, while I have been struggling to make my contemporary heroine likeable and her story engaging, in spite of the fact that I have taught whole courses on how to do it.  It's so easy in theory, but in practice ... aaaarrrgghhh.  

All week, I’ve been polishing the first five chapters which I have promised to send by the middle of September, but I’m about to go back and rewrite them yet again.  A very good friend who knows a lot about the sixteenth century and, indeed, about fiction generally, has manfully read the whole draft, and last night I braced myself for the feedback.  Essentially, the past got a hurrah, the present a resounding boo.  Even though I already knew that, and I knew - and he knew - it was just a draft, it was still a rather crushing experience.  But it was also  incredibly helpful to have a fresh perspective on the plot, and he gave me a couple of ideas that I’m going to run with.  I also had to come home and slash a major part of the plot that I’d had from the beginning, and which I’ve been resisting cutting, but I know he’s right (curses).  It’s a horrible feeling deleting great chunks of writing you’ve spent ages honing, but there is something cathartic about it too.  I will tuck those pages away and who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to use them in another book one day. 

In the meantime, though, it’s back to Chapter 1.  I’ve got a busy week coming up, and I’m away for my birthday this weekend, so I’d better get ON with it, as my mother would say.


  1. It's a really interesting thing about the character in the past being stronger. I think that's true of most successful time slips. It drives our desire to travel back and see what's happening. I'm trying to think of novels where the tensions in the present and past worlds are equal and can think of a few, e.g. Barbara Erskine. I suppose it also depends on how much time you spend in each time period as well. No help really, just musing because I adore time slips and I'm hanging out to read this one.

  2. I've been thinking about what you had to say about needing to be engaged in the story in the past, Louise. I think that's true. I've been re-reading Barbara Erskine a lot (obviously) and she's brilliant at keeping up the pace in the present while keeping her story in the past quite simple most of the time. For me, the interesting thing *should* be the experience of the character in the present. Doesn't everybody wonder sometimes what it was "really like" in the past, and Grace gets the chance to find out ...

    Hang out a bit longer - at the moment publication is October 2012 but you can be sure I'll be announcing it nearer the time!

  3. Well done on finishing your book. I'm getting closer to the end of mine after rewriting the whole thing. I got to 95k and just couldn't bring the two halves of my timeslip novel together enough to feel complete happy. 107k later, I'm much happier now, like you said it seems to take for ever and now I know why, I was writing two books in one.