I’ve been getting horribly tangled up in the structure of my second novel. The story is relatively clear in my head – in the linear world I know the essence of what happens and when – it’s just piecing it all together in a compelling and lucid way that has me chewing my nails and scratching my head. Who do we want to hear the story from? When can they reveal their side of the story? Is this idea even working? Does anyone even care?
I’ve tried a few things over the past months when stuck. Index cards. Excel spreadsheets. Scrivener. Even a giant paper skeleton construction blu-taced to a wall. It feels productive at the time to just sit down and attempt to untangle things like this. But to be honest, they haven’t got me that far. It’s like sharpening pencils. Or buying a brand new notebook. If I’m going to write a novel I still have to put words down on a page, one in front of the other and keep going. One. In. Front. Of. The. Other. Waiting for things to just fall into place doesn’t seem to work.
I guess every writer has a different way of coping with this. Wine helps. Chocolate too. But I’ve also noticed that for me, looking at the story from another angle, jumping to another viewpoint or moving on to another scene – even another chapter – can be just as helpful. My husband reminded me the other day of how when I got stuck writing my first draft of Secrets of the Tides I stopped where I was in the first half of the novel and wrote the final chapter. I found as I progressed that it helped to have that target sitting there – something to aim for. Lots of things changed in the course of writing the story, but knowing what I was aiming for really helped. So ditching something that’s not working to start on another part of the story that feels more interesting, more urgent has proved, to me, to be a good way to reboot. After all, it’s all part of the story, no matter where it falls, and the more I put down the more I begin to understand my characters and the journey they are on. And there is the crux of it I think: understanding the characters and letting them tell me their story. Sure I’m the grandmaster of the novel, but it’s when the characters jump up and tell me what happens next, when they tell me in no uncertain terms that they wouldn’t do ‘x’, no, no, they’d do ‘y’ that I know I’m on the right path … until the next time, at least. And when that happens, I’ll probably pour myself another BIG glass of wine.