The Evolution of a Conflict

One of my current writing projects (I have three) is revising the long novel I finished rough drafting about a year ago – the one I had been writing for 2 years off and on. I put off jumping into an immediate revise because, frankly, the prospect intimidated the heck out of me due to sheer volume (still does, to be honest). I knew all along the opening was weak, and I dropped a subplot halfway through the drafting process, so the first order of business in revision is rewriting the opening third of the book and retooling a couple scenes in that middle third to match the final plot. After that I can go back through and refine characterizations, character mannerisms and motivations, pull threads forward sooner or weave them back so they foreshadow with more subtlety. I have never had to revise like this; all my other finished stories were plotted better initially, rather than partially discovered as I went. Damn. Plotting is so much easier.

Ironically, plotting was what got me into trouble with this story.

The basic premise is a disgraced young lady deciding to eschew social redemption and go into trade – specifically as a modiste, after her gambler brother receives a fortune in imported fabrics as payment in kind for a debt. My original subplot involved the man whose cargo the brother won seeking revenge, but I found it didn’t quite work…turns out the brother himself is the one causing her problems as he spirals into self-destruction. Simple enough to remove the pointless villain. But now the beginning is off.

Without the threads of the revenge subplot, the opening unravels. See, originally I conceived the fabric scene as it being delivered to their residence almost as an insolent joke, and the girl is in heaven thinking of all the new dresses she can have while her brother scowls and stomps around pissed off that he has this inconvenient volume of stuff he has no notion how to sell and no use for, but he can’t complain to the guy about it because he himself agreed to take a non-cash payment. When I decided the guy was going to get revenge by sabotaging the sister’s shop, I knew he had to deliver the goods there – otherwise how could he connect her to his gambling loss – so the girl had to know about the fabrics before delivery and hatch her plan overnight. So in order to make things work, the brother received a voucher for a share of the ship’s cargo that he could select, and for fun brought his sister to do it. But without a villain who needs to know what she is doing with the winnings, and where, that excursion is both cumbersome and narratively unnecessary.

Which is why I say plotting messed up the beginning in the first place. (Or second place. Damn. What am I up to here, the third place on this plotpoint? Gah!)

I tend to use the Occam’s Razor test for my stories: is this the simplest and most direct means for that to happen? If not, what is? If the more complicated way is necessary for the story then it had better be built on an ironclad piece of necessity set up by previous events with consequences borne out by later ones.

Occam’s Razor said without the revenge subplot there is no reason for her to see the ship or know in advance about her brother’s win. And the more natural playing of the scene was always “What is all this, Robbie?” and a slow-forming idea for her business rather than a lightning-fast one.

So back to the beginning it is…and a host of other moments to be rewritten now they are no longer supporting that particular consequence. They have better consequences to be inciting.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Evolution of a Conflict

  1. I feel your pain – I have a novel in a similar state: everyone who read it (as a favor to me) said the beginning was slow, but once they got past the first third of the books everything kept them reading to the end.

    I’m not going near that thing with ANY size Pole until I finish the WIP, but in the back of my mind some demi-Muse is getting her feet wet by playing with that awkward first third of a novel.

    If you like a story enough to have spent time on it, and go back to it, there is something compelling there – maybe write that out for yourself? Especially if you already have a satisfactory ending.

    • Isn’t that the pits? I have another writer friend going through the same thing (except she is actively revising) – excellent finish, slow opening in the sense of non-compelling. Slow doesn’t have to be pejorative in that context. To me the key is, are you hooking the reader?

      I don’t know whether my opening even lacks compellingness so much as it lacks coherence vis a vis the rest of the book. I was definitely still getting to know everyone when i started…the brother in particular came on strong later on in the draft. I definitely have a drive to finish it…it’s just overwhelming. i am hopeful that when i have the opening rewritten to the point of jointure with salvageable narrative, that the revision process will seem less huge and scary because the whole will hang together better. either way it’s an adventure! if nothing else maybe it will teach me to never, ever, try pantsing again 🙂

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