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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Getting THERE, by Carla Damron

My manuscript is not quite there.

You know what I mean. I’m pleased with the plot, the characters, and the conflict. I think the climax is close to what I want it to be (close but not THERE). The final chapter does what it should do.  Still, something isn’t working.

I sent it to a wonderful editor who gave me line-by-line and summary feedback. She diagnosed part of my problem: my protagonist doesn’t have enough of an arc. In the end, she needs to be a different person than she was in the beginning. In my head, she was, but readers don’t live in my head (lucky for them!) so somehow, I need to capture her growth in the narrative.

For two months, I’ve worked on this, looking for places to inject more self-reflection, for her to show moments of growth through her responses. As she is a woman struggling with mental illness, growth relates to symptom improvement. Symptom improvement is difficult when one is under tremendous stress—which I, as a writer, must put her through—but it’s a test she must pass. The reader needs to see that she has the insight to learn from her mistakes and the bravery to overcome horrific challenges.

It’s doable.

The other problem I need to fix is what to leave unresolved. In mysteries, we like tidy endings. Bad guy caught, end of story. But life isn’t always like that. And my bad guy is part of a network of human traffickers, and I know, realistically, that cutting off one tentacle doesn’t kill the whole monster.

I’m less enamored with neat and tidy—in my reading and my writing—but what do I leave unresolved?

I considered letting my bad guy escape, but that’s not the correct resolution to my overall narrative arc. Perhaps one or two of his underlings slip through the cracks. That’s believable, and it might give the message that “this little piece of the world is okay, but the monster is still out there.” Will that help the readers understand that human trafficking is a real, horrific, EVERYWHERE crime?  (This is the social worker in me sneaking out. I can be an Evangelist on this subject). Will it still be a satisfying read for the mystery lovers out there?

Over the next few days, I’ll try this solution. If that doesn’t fix my problem, I’ll try something else.
I won’t send the manuscript out until it’s “there.”  

How about you? Has this ever happened in your writing? How do you handle this kind of problem?


Jim Jackson said...

Yep – it’s why I am a slow writer. I don’t want to settle when I think there is something not quite right – and so I rewrite. Eventually I have to abandon the work and try something else. That abandonment is referred to by others as publishing.

~ Jim

Warren Bull said...

I have a story simmering on a back burner right now. I will come back to it later to see if what it needs will have worked its way to my awareness while I worked on something else.

Kait said...

Great view of the writing process, Carla. It's always a one step forward two steps back dance for me too. Right now, I'm with Warren, I've got a simmering story, but one big problem to overcome before I put fingers to keyboard (nearly said pen to paper - boy THAT'S been a while)! I think you are correct though, with a story as all encompassing as human trafficking, it does need to continue beyond the borders of your story. You can tie up your ends for the segment of the story you are telling, but the tragedy will go on, and your leaving a few loose ends is definitely evocative of that greater arc.

Shari Randall said...

I remember reading a very well received mystery that had two murders in it. One was left unresolved - because "that is the way life is." There was quite a bit of talk on social media about this, and as a mystery reader, I did feel cheated.
But since your story is not purely a mystery, I think in this case it would be fine to have some ambiguity, especially with the underlings slipping through the cracks…because human trafficking is just that sort of slimy, slipping-through-the-cracks business. Go get em, Carla!

KM Rockwood said...

I'd think of your novel as an episode in a bigger story--your episode is resolved, but obviously the bigger story continues. Just avoid the "cheap tricks" type of ending (i.e. the end-of-world stories where the two lone survivors come to a garden and the author tells us, "and their names were Adam and Eve.")

I don't know about you, but if I keep at it long enough, I can convince myself that my own name must surely be misspelled. So at some point, I have to say, "That's it!" Have you tried putting the story down for a few weeks and writing something else, so your mind views it with a fresh "eye"? And then have the computer read it back to you out loud, instead of you reading it again? You can take notes, or follow along. Sometimes when you're almost there, working from a print out gives a different perspective than seeing it on the screen.

Good luck with it, but don't drive yourself totally crazy. And if you're losing perspective, find another person to read your latest version & tell you what he/she thinks.

E. B. Davis said...

I have a problem with character ARC and transformation. In YA, I think it is very effective, but in mystery when the main character is of a certain age, one that the reader comes to trust because of, in some cases, the MC's sound judgment--how much transformation can occur? Take Jessica Fletcher as an example. We know the character and Jessica is fairly status quo throughout the series. No one objects. Few older people have eureka moments. What happens is less growth or change as it is a confirmation or counter-confirmation of our formed views. What occurs is a quiet questioning of our ideas and values about life.

In your novel, from what you wrote, she is young. In your internal dialogue, does she question her own judgment? Is she self-aware enough of her own illness to effect change? Many mental illnesses are compounded by the patient's unwillingness to change. Perhaps her internal dialogue is an argument with herself, an internal debate as to whether or not she will allow herself to get better and whatever is happening in the plot gives support to her argument for change. It's hard to understand because I haven't read the story. At least a young person with emotional/mental illnesses stands a chance of being helped. An older patient has reinforced their own arguments to not change and get better. This is not to say all people with these disabilities are in control. Some aren't, but I doubt you would pick the unchangeable as your main character, thus shooting your writing in the foot.

Good luck, Carla, but satisfy yourself and what you know to be true from your professional experience--not an editor who may have had no exposure to these handicapped individuals.

Gloria Alden said...

Carla, I so totally agree that a character ARC depends on the age of the character. My MC is older - forty, which is still young for me, but she has experienced much in her life so there's not as much of an ARC and those who read my series seem to enjoy her.

I also think you might need to set the book aside for awhile and work on something else, and then come back to it. As for having it all tied up at the end, not every writer does that. Case in point is Louise Penny. The main murder is solved, but she leaves the reader wanting to immediately read the next book because something is left hanging. In my book five, the murder was solved, but there was a skeleton found that no one knew whose it was. It was found out in the next book. So you can end with one of the bad guys being caught, but with some reference to the others out there still just as bad, or maybe even more so.

Sarah Henning said...

Oh man, great choice of discussion, Carla. I know I personally have a problem with rushing the endings. Maybe it's because I want it to all feel tidy and it seems much more reasonable to tie it all up in a bow rather than letting pieces hang loose.

carla said...

Hi, y'all, thanks for this great discussion. I am letting the novel percolate a little, though it stays on my mind!
I apologize for being late chiming in. I'm in South Carolina dealing with flooding. We are okay, though had some damage in my office that required our attention. Keep my state in your thoughts and prayers-- we have a long road before we'll be fully recovered.