Save the Dangling Characters!

I needed to read Essential writing skills: why a bad first draft is better than no first draft by M J Wright this past week. I’ve been beating myself up lately. Here’s why:

I began a story last year in a flurry of excitement. I finished chapter 10 or 11, and the going got tough. After writing approximately 30,000 words, I started to wonder, “Is this really good? Am I wasting my time?” It was the “make or break” phase. My fear of commitment kicked in. I thought, “What if I invest in these characters, fall in love with them, and find out they aren’t who I think they are?” Weird? Maybe, but that’s how I tick. So, what did I do? I hung it up. Left it. Left my characters dangling. I don’t want to admit to you how many characters I do this to. It’s painful.

And I hate to quit. So I told myself, “You are going to finish this, even if it’s bad!” I wanted to commit to the project, to put my heart into it, but I couldn’t. I needed to know my characters were lovable, relatable. I needed feedback to continue.

None of that friend-y stuff would do. I’m talking about your best friend who reads three lines and says, “Oh, this is wonderful! You’re such a great writer! I don’t know why you’re not submitting to every publisher!” I needed the real reaction of the reader who wasn’t influenced by my wonderful personality and incredible wit. (heh)

Where could I find that? Where could I find an audience who would only pay attention to the story? If it was good, I’d know it by the following it garnered.

This is where I cracked. I gave up the dream of professionally publishing the book. I changed the story up a bit and posted it on Fanfiction, knowing I was giving it away for free. Why? Isn’t that like shooting myself in the foot? Ah, my friend, a free book is better than no book at all.

I’m deep in my latest obsession, The Kiss of the Gobboling King. It’s one of those fairytale-revisited works. It’s fun. It’s freeing. No requirements. No target audience. It’s already found a little following. Readers tell me they like Esda and Draill, so I feel safe that these characters won’t disappoint me. I can love them unreservedly. I can finish the story.

Is it written the way I imagined it, shined and polished for the bookstore shelf? No. It’s a first draft. But when I’m finished, it will be the entire first draft. That’s what matters.

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The Conversation

“You were 126 a couple of months ago. Now you’re down to 123. It’s progress, sure, but it’s not enough. The goal is 114, remember?

“You know what? If you’ll work with me here, we can settle on 116. What about it? Is it a deal?”

(No response.)

“What can I do to make this an easy transition for you? Just name it.”

(Uncomfortable silence.)

“Come on! What will it take to get you down to 114K? And, yes, I’m taking back my offer of 116,000 words because you’re being stubborn!”

(The manuscript still refuses to budge.)

“Look, I’m on your side—I’ll always be on your side—but I have to look at this objectively. If I were asked to read a 123K manuscript for teens that I was reading cold, taking a chance on its writer, I’d probably pass.

“You know, the first Harry Potter book was only 77K.

“I’m rounding up.

A Wrinkle in Time was just under 50. Okay, so it’s true Eragon was 157 plus, but I want to err on the safe side, don’t you?

“Doesn’t it matter to you that you’re not published yet? Because it matters to me. I don’t want you to have to live in a box for the rest of your existence. Of course, I could always end your existence. I have that power, you know.”

(The tension is palpable.)

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. It’s just… I’m frustrated. I’ve been focused on you for quite sometime now. How long have we been together? Let me see… This September, it will be three years. Wow.

“It’s been fun, and I know it’s because I still like you–more than I did at the beginning. You bring out things in me I didn’t know were even there. Some of them are kind of embarrassing, but, all in all, I’m glad we’ve spent this time together.

“I’m not breaking up or anything. I mean, there are some other stories I’d really like to catch up with. Some of them were written before I ever started thinking about you. I feel bad that I’ve neglected them.

“Look, you’re still the one. You know that. It’s because so much about you is real, and it makes me feel fulfilled in some strange way; but then we come to these roadblocks. I admit, sometimes I question whether our relationship is healthy. What do you think? Is talking to you like this healthy?”

In trying to get this manuscript to cooperate, the words ‘wits end’ are ringing in my ears.