Friday, February 1, 2008

Finally put the baby to bed

Today, after many, many hours 're-working' my previously completed novel, I went to the post office with four copies and sent it off for the next stage of the competition. As I walked away afterwards, I experienced a feeling I've felt before, usually after the completion of something big: a round of exams, the end of VCE (called HSC, when I did it), the end of a uni course. Okay, this effort wasn't quite so enormous as those, but it did take up the best part of the last three days. The feeling was: Now what do I do? Of course, there's no shortage of things to do, but for a moment, I was at a loss. Such was the extent to which this thing has had me in its grip.

The problem was that my manuscript, though 'technically' 51,000 words, only came up to 45,000 odd words on word count. The reason for this discrepancy is that I wrote my manuscript in 'Courier New' font (double spaced), which gives an average 250 word count. 'Times New Roman', single spaced, packs in a lot more. Therefore, my 205 page 'Courier New' manuscript translated to 66 pages in ARC (see previous post). And that was the problem. Minimum number of pages to go to the next stage in the contest was 75. And I only had 66!!!

After 're-jigging' the damn thing numerous times, I had to face the cold hard fact. I just didn't have enough words in the manuscript. Near blank pages don't help, either. When a chapter ends only a line into a new page, the usual convention is to begin the next chapter on a new page. But when doing the 'average' count in 'Courier New', every page counts, and that includes the blank ones.

Adding new scenes meant I had to completely change my initial structure of chapters. And then I had to choose which parts of the novels could do with some 'beefing up'. One of these was the only sex scene in the novel. I'm generally quite coy with these, since writing sex is difficult, and doing it badly is oh, so cringe-worthy. But since the manuscript was in ARC format, and I was looking over it in 'Full Screen Reading' view, it was quite easy to work out where I hadn't made the most of a pivotal moment, or where I'd rushed unwisely. The sex scene was one such place. At the time I wrote it, it seemed long enough, but since I find writing sex difficult, a few lines seemed like the entire bible and the gospels put together, (except that in the bible, they only bring up sex metaphorically, in terms of snakes and apples, or men 'knowing' women - oh that would be sooo much easier!)

And let's get another thing straight. This thing I'm calling a sex scene is no such thing. I should call it a love scene, because there's a lot of warm fuzzy stuff in it, a good set-up, and then I leave it up to the reader to work out which bits go where. Except that this time, it was as if I'd set the scene, lit the fire, so to speak, then slammed the door on the reader, leaving her outside in the snow.

So I put in a bit more. Went as far as the characters undressing and getting into bed. And reaching for a condom. Which was the furthest I'd ever gone with any of this, so that's where I called it quits. Once the condom comes out, I think we all know where it's going. Oh, I realise it could get really interesting at this point, but for now I'll leave it to the experts like Jennifer Crusie. When I think I've written a sex scene as well as she does, I won't have any qualms about putting it in.

But aside from THAT scene, I put in a few others, that, surprise, surpise... actually improved the novel. Too bad I've already sent it off to Harlequin Mills & Boon in London. I intended the new scenes to be nothing more than 'fillers', but it was only afterward, as I read them back, that I realised how vital they were to the story, and how much they added to character development. They focused on the finer minutiae of life, moments spent in the backyard having a glass of wine with the person you love while his child enjoys herself on her new swing set, or rugging up in your woollies and taking a carton of fish and chips onto the beach in winter. It was in scenes like these that my characters' personalities were revealed a bit more three-dimensionally than I had managed to do in the original manuscript. These scenes were the 'feel-good moments' that we so love watching in films. The moments when we truly get to know the protagonists and fall in love with them, when we begin to care and desperately want to know what happens next. And it's knowing the protagonists this well that makes us laugh at their antics, or shed a tear when things go wrong.

Through this painful and frantic process of having to come up with a fair chunk of new material in a short time, I learned a valuable lesson. One that may not help me much with this manuscript, but that will definitely kick my current WIP up a gear. And all the writing under pressure? Well that was valuable too. Good practice for jumping to the crack of an editor's whip.


ellen said...

Ah well, if it gets accepted by HMB, maybe they'll let you add the extra bits in.

Lisa66 said...

I know just how you feel! LOL! At least yours has gone. Mine is done, but not yet posted. Couldn't finish before the post office closed. I'm having a wine to celebrate.