Well, I didn't break it. But I royally screwed it up. I took a great premise, an engaging voice, an awesome narrator and...did nothing with them. I ended up with 100 pages of meandering. Conversations. Haircuts. Watching paint dry. (Okay, not watching it dry, but putting it on the walls. No, I'm not kidding.) Nothing much happening at all.
I knew I was completely tanking this idea, so I quit. And I thought about it. And I didn't think about it. And then I thought about it some more. That's when I knew that I had to go back. I don't have any problem abandoning ideas--I've got three, or four, or five started-but-never-finished novels that I feel no compulsion whatsoever to return to. I don't even know how many story starts and characters are in my Word graveyard, because they don't talk to me anymore. They're dead.
But this character refused to die. She kept talking to me. She let me know that I butchered her voice--she isn't nearly that sullen! She'd never react that way! And I didn't even get her taste in music right. But Character, I said, I don't know what to do with you! It wasn't working! My idea didn't work, and I don't know what to do to fix it! I have all of these awesome scenes in mind, but I don't know how to get from where I started you to where those scenes are.
Character was not happy with me.
Neither was my crit partner Natalie. She kept asking about Character. I kept hemming and hawing. Finally, Natalie said, "What if in the beginning instead of X you had Y?"
And then it all clicked. I had shot Character in the foot from the very beginning by taking what I thought to be the natural plot path. That plot progression lacked any sort of narrative tension whatsoever. It was an idiot move. A complete idiot move. Six completed novels under my belt and I can still doom a manuscript within the first twenty pages!
That, my friends, is talent.
Actually, that, my friends, is writing. Sometimes we mess up. This is the worst I've ever messed up. Last night I deleted twenty-THOUSAND words. It used to be that would make my heart hurt with lost effort. Now, however, I'm excited. Those twenty-thousand words didn't work. But now I've got words building up and screaming to get out that will.
And that's also why I have an alpha reader--someone who reads my things as I write them. Because otherwise I wouldn't have had someone nagging me, someone who knew what I had and why it wasn't working. Someone to suggest just the thing to spark the idea for how it all could work.
Three cheers for Natalie!
I know not everyone uses alphas, but I can't recommend them enough. Sometimes we get so stuck in the path of how our stories "need" to be that we don't see what they can be if we'd only let them. I knew something was wrong with the story--had known from about 10k words in--but it took me to 25k to admit that it was too wrong, that nothing was going to fix it. And it took a wonderful crit partner to help me see what I needed to do to get Character back on the plot she needed to tell her story.
Character is happy. Natalie is happy. Agent Michelle is happy. I am happy and excited about a project for the first time in a what feels like a very long time.
Writing is hard, and it's very easy to mess up (I never make the same mistake twice--I come up with new and innovative ways to screw up every time!), but that's the glory of first drafts--the delete key can be our very best friend. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go argue with Character about why, exactly, she is forcing me to listen to The Cure and Passion Pit.