Writing is hard. I think I said that before. Pretty sure somebody else said it before me. I’ve reached a point in the story where I suspect there’s a problem. Not a typo. I know there’s typos. Those are unimportant to the goal of finishing a novel and can be fixed at the end. No, what’s wrong is whether we have compelling stakes, minimal helpful coincidences and a rational causal chain.
What Happened Before
In the first draft, it started with a short story to test the idea of Alex Rune, the Technomage. That left a dangling thread, so I wrote seven more short stories, each a three act play with their own plot and theme, yet continuing an overall story. I didn’t know who the bad guy was or what they wanted until part seven. The resulting mess taught me some lessons, 70,000 words worth.
The First Three Books Will Suck
Continuing my education in novel writing, taught me about Scene and Sequel, Theme, rising action. Making things get worse before they get better. A few experts point out that even with those tools in hand, it’ll take a few books to get the hang of it.
Pantsing Toward Bethlehem
A common wisdom in writing is to keep writing. For pantsers, this makes extra sense as they keep writing what the characters tell them. They’ll still have to cut and repair any mess of a plot. There’s still merit in the philosophy and pantsing. But the best pantsers are still doing what the best plotters are doing. Applying story patterns and craft to guide what happens next.
The Plot Thickened
The abstracted plot of most adventure novels sound the same. Everything is normal, until one day it isn’t. The hero takes it upon themselves to set things right. They do stuff, they learn, they overcome. Lots of failing mixed in. Then the big confrontation and the hero can go home, changed, but a new normal restored. Sounds like the Hero’s Journey.
The fancy version is the Twenty Key Scenes I nicked from CS Lakin’s blog. I set Alex Rune at a certain point in his life, ignoring the prior draft and set him on a collision course with the plot. It worked out for a time. I never guessed who the betrayer turned out to be, but I made it work.
What went wrong?
It’s possible I can save the words I’ve written, but rather than forge on ahead, I’m assessing the damage thus far. I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I’ll see if I can lay out the bones.
In a world very much like our own, with no magic or monsters, Alex Rune invented technomagic, which does illegal things like breaching secure networks, explosives and more. The SEC, ATF and FCC can’t know how this stuff works, unless we give Alex immunity.
I thought it would be fun giving him a cop buddy, Lt. Lavert. She’s tough, she’s funny. She’s got her own problems. Would she ignore Alex’s mystic mumbo jumbo?
A big problem here is story-telling strategy 101. Conflict. I think I’ve got other sources of that, but I didn’t want this pair to be at odds right off, as that’s what every other story does (Dresden Files and Castle included). I tried to flip some of those details, which creates new problems.
Another problem I faced is scale. You ever notice how the fate of the world is at stake. Every time? I’ve chosen a smaller foe for our erstwhile hero, an internet troll. But in doing so, it creates the risk that the hero can just walk away. Meh. Out of going down that dark avenue of why bother, it came to me. Alex Rune spends his money on magic because he was tired of getting his ass handed to him every time he stood up to jerks. He won’t walk away, because that’s what everybody else does.
What Am I Gonna Do About It?
I’m double-checking the connective tissue in my plot. Everything has to make sense, with few beneficial coincidences. It’s easier than you think to make that mistake. Changing Lavert’s role in the story seems likely. I worked hard to create a diverse cast of characters, but balancing conflict and building a team that readers can identify with as individuals and root for together is hard.