Tuesday, July 13, 2010

[Book Update] The Passion of the Chapter 15

I don't really keep track of such things, but I think Chapter 15 has now probably tied or exceeded chapter 6 for the most dedicated, contiguous time invested in a single chapter. And despite what I thought on Friday evening, I'm not done with it yet. This is a problem, by the way, because I'd planned to take it to the writer's group last night. I'm writing this on Monday morning, so I don't yet know whether or not I made it, but it wasn't going to be easy. My plan (as of that time) is to work on it during the afternoon and if I'm clearly not going to finish in time possibly break out one of my older short stories from college and bring that instead - preferably one that's on my list of stuff to use in some fashion.

So yeah, Chapter 15. I kind of liked it in its orginal format. I initiated a re-write because:
a. I knew the writer's group (some of them, anyway) would hassle me (with the purest of intentions, of course - they want to help me make my work better) about not having much/any dialogue and I wanted to pre-empt that. I know from experience that that won't work - some of the readers won't settle for anything less than an entire chapter of people talking to each other. It's also a lousy reason to make a major change, but you get tired of hearing the same feedback week after week after week, and it actually did fit in with some of the other changes so I allowed it in this case. The chapter currently known as Chapter 16, on the other hand, has something like 3 lines of dialogue in the entire 30+ page chapter and I'm not changing that, so it isn't as if I'm willing to sacrifice what's best for this novel to avoid getting beaten up by my writer's group. I'll take a pounding for Chapter 16 and then move on. It's an awesome chapter.

b. I wanted to give the reader a different perspective on both the action of the chapter (it's the first serious battle in the book) and on the main character (who doesn't tell you much about himself, so I'm trying to let the reader see him through other characters' eyes).

c. I didn't feel that the chapter had enough energy or did a good enough job of showing the fear, weariness, and pain of the defenders (who are meant to be sympathetic characters). The bad guys weren't bad enough and the good guys weren't suffering enough for it to feel like a real battle. I would very much like a soldier who's seen combat to read this and go "Yeah, that's how it would feel to be there." This is tough since I haven't ever been in combat myself (which is good news for friendly forces and no doubt a real disappointment to our nation's enemies), but I need to at least make a good effort. I didn't feel as if the first draft even came close.

There were various other concepts I wanted to include in the chapter - a page-long list of changes, in fact - so after taking a couple of months off from Chapter 15, I started re-writing it about two weeks ago. These are summer weeks, however. I only get a few hours a day (if I'm lucky) to write, so progress was slow. Finally, last Friday, major revision #2 was done and read for my wife to critique.

She liked it a lot and had fairly light feedback, but my wife is too soft on my work. I knew I'd failed again to get it right, despite completely rewriting 85 or 90% of the chapter into a different character's POV and addressing much of my page-long list of desired changes. It's still not right, and, again, I wanted it to be done and ready to present to my writer's group on Monday night. By Sunday afternoon, I had reviewed my notes, and the chapter, and had another half-page of changes I wanted to make. And I still didn't feel like I'd hit on the heart of the problems. I just knew I wasn't satisfied.

Sunday night, before bed, I had a series of inspirations. It all sort of clicked and I knew what I had to do. Part of the chapter had to be moved into a later chapter. This was good because it solved three problems.
1. It will result in Chapter 15 being entirely from the new character's POV, rather than split between him and the protagonist in an 80/20 (approximately) split.
2. It resolved a lingering question of where to put some brief but important action involving an antagonist and some key characters. I didn't have a good place to put this, and now I do.
3. It shortens a chapter that I felt was a bit too long. Though I'll probably end up even longer by the time I'm done making other changes.

I mapped out an order for upcoming chapters (currently Chapter 16 remains chapter 16, and will serve as a break between the contiguous action of Chapters 14/15 and the also-contiguous (mostly) action of Chapters 17/18) and figured out some of the key info I still needed to add to Chapter 15 as well as modification's I'll need to the protagonist's POV when he re-appears in Chapter 17.

So that's the good news - I finally feel like I know what needs to happen with Chapter 15. The question remains (as of this writing): can I make the necessary changes AND print copies in time to get everything in place for the Writer's Group. How's that for a cliffhanger? Yeah, it's not much of one, but I've invested all of my creative juices in this confounded chapter, sorry.

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