I’d finished it in May of 2010 and started submitting it to agents. But there was a nagging feeling that something wasn’t right, and I was admittedly uncomfortable with the fact I’d had to do every workaround imaginable to get the word count to 80K. It wasn’t until an agent gave me personal comments, that I realized there were profound problems with the story.
Some were caused by my trying to bring up the word count. Because I’d had to fight my way to the word count, I’d focused too much on numbers and not enough on good story. But there were other problems, like me not being able to develop any subplots. The story also felt off for reasons I couldn’t pin down. The two things I knew for sure was that I needed to identify the problem, and that if I didn’t, I would continue to repeat it everything I wrote.
On Thanksgiving Day last year, I happened to visit Holly Lisle’s site and saw her How to Revise Your Novel course. There was a section on subplots. I figured that if it could help me solve the subplot problems, it would be worth the money. (Holly is planning on releasing the lessons as an eBook.)
And I went over the novel, following the lessons. I could see how much the details and trying to pump up the word count had messed up the story. But when it came to subplots, I didn’t have any. I just had stubs — sentences here and there that might hint at a subplot. There was something like forty different ones. Then I got to theme, and everyone kept telling me I just wasn’t seeing it. But the truth was, I didn’t have one either. And the answer to the problems I was having remained very elusive. It wasn’t until I got to lesson ten, when I connected the conflict when the problem suddenly revealed itself. Second half of the story worked pretty well, but the first half, just didn’t connect. And with it came the realization that, in all the writing advice that said, “Start with the action,” I’d managed to start the story too late. My original beginning is now 130 pages into the story. The result of starting too late was that the story setup still came in, just in the wrong place. I was even getting it at the end of the story. So it was crowding out the theme and the subplots.
I spent a lot of time on the beginning, trying to get it to be in the right place. Eventually, the story seemed to be coming together.
And then I realized it was running too short again. What could I do? I still wasn’t able to get subplots into the story, though I figured it was the type of story I was doing. So I added a second plot (Clive Cussler actually has 6 plots in each of his stories!). But as I continued writing, the story was starting to overcomplicate itself again. That second plot. At the same time, Holly announced that she was going Indie, and I started looking at that. Indie books don’t have word count requirements like traditional publishing does. So I decided to let the word count go. With that, I took out the second plot and combined some of the action scenes into the main story. Whew! Story uncomplicated itself and the bumps started smoothing out.
Then I took Bob Mayer’s Self-Publishing Options class and identified my platform. That led to the addition of a subplot in the last two months of the writing of the story. I also still felt like something was off, but now I started to get that there was a problem with the structure. I researched a few sites and found something that made sense to me. I started rearranging scenes — that pesky beginning again — and moved a major scene out of the front of the book to make it the Mid-Act Crisis and the book began to really come together.
Next up is to do a Style Sheet in preparation for the editing phase.