Novel slews sideways

My novelling group met last night, and we had a really successful meeting. Lots of chatter about different aspects of writing, and I have a million links to email out to different members who asked me for resources. I will do that when I get home, guys!

They also gave me feedback on the opening of my novel, and we wound up talking about a load of other facets of it as well.

Let me back up a bit and mention that I haven’t worked on the novel since about February. I edited the stuffing out of the opening section and submitted it for a competition, and I haven’t touched it since. (I didn’t get shortlisted for the competition, so I can stop hoping about that and move on now).

Since then, I got very disheartened about the whole thing (since submitting it, not since knowing that I didn’t make the shortlist – really, it was a longshot anyway). It felt old and tired, and the story just didn’t seem to want to make the right shape. It stopped feeling like something I thought other people wanted to read; I write because I want to be published, so that makes a difference. If I just wrote for myself, I would have been happy to crank out the first draft and move on.

I have been pondering some fairly radical changes, and the discussions last night helped me make a couple of decisions. The first is that one of the subplots and main points of view has to go. I love my pair of cops, and they will still be in the book, but I think that giving them their own voice threatened to overwhelm the plot of the novel and slant it off-track. Trying to do them and their story justice took up bigger and bigger chunks of space, and I don’t think that was helping matters.

One of my group made a good point that brought it home to me – was there anything that they had to solve, in order to resolve the plot? The short answer is: no. Their presence has a purpose, but the mystery they’re solving doesn’t really impact the main plot. Which leads to the simple question: why give them so much real estate in the story, then?

I’ll miss Charlie’s voice (and I’ll probably bring him into another story anyway), but he’ll still show his head in the story; the police presence is still required. That, I think, will help to focus the story and will also help to sharpen their role in the main character’s plot thread. On the plus side, I have two characters that are fairly well fleshed-out to write in, which makes things easier for me.

The other big change I decided on was genre. I have always said that the novel is Crime (or Mystery) genre, mostly at a loss to pin it down anywhere else. I usually go for scifi or modern fantasy in my writing (like I have with AB), but the nature of this story didn’t require a different place, planet, time or metaphysical rules. It could pass as real-life, with a bit of ninja thrown in (I don’t intend to put in any ninja magic – at least, not in this story). So, because it is essentially a murder mystery, I filed it away under ‘Crime’.

I don’t think I ever felt quite comfortable with that. It’s probably because I know how hard it is for writers to cross genres, and the chances of me wanting to stay in straight crime were not good. (That’s once I’m published, of course, which… okay, it might be jumping the gun here, but a girl can hope.)

I don’t want to go down the magic route – ninja magic is cheesy and would detract from what is a very serious story. I like to twist cliches and stereotypes around into something new, but I think that I would feel that faint edge of the ridiculous if I tried to get that in there. So that rules out modern fantasy.

Which leaves scifi. The story doesn’t need a different time or place, but it can exist in one. Scifi gives me more freedom with the rules of the game that is being played around and with my main character, and I can use that to bring certain elements to the fore if I need to. The more I think about it, the more I like the notion of jumping the story ahead a few decades – less Law And Order, more Blade Runner.

So I have a bit of work to do. The good news is that it won’t be hard to set the story in the future; it doesn’t change any of the important points. If I can get a day this weekend, I will sit down and see if I can sort out the new structure. Then edit last night’s comments in the opening, and start on reworking chapter 2.

Wish me luck!

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