Thursday, 28 April 2011

Cruel to be Kind: Cutting your Novel

Any baby at some point needs to go out in the world. She will catch bugs; be nursed back to health and develop immunity that will make her stronger. Some people will like her, others will not; she will have to learn to deal with both and learn from what their reactions tell her.

It was with this principle in mind that I launched my new baby, Merely Players, on the stormy seas of first readership. My baby has been passed to the caring hands of three people who can be trusted to help with her development:

1. Aysha: reads widely and is familiar with the romance genre and an enthusiast for all of her friend's successes.

2. Patricia: my sister and the genius behind Unwinding Slowly, a superb blog devoted to knitting. A voracious romance reader, she can be relied on for a steely and honest critique, though she will provide arnica to assist with the bruises.

3. Andrea: a wonderful critique partner found through the august portals of the Harlequin forums. She has six novels under her belt and we are in a position to help each other enormously.

So what learning have these three fairy godmothers bestowed?

Aysha has given the gift of encouragement. "I love it! Your heroine is a strong Catherine Cookson type with a weakness for bad boys and your hero reminds me of Joseph Fiennes in Shakespeare in Love. In fact, it's like a mix of highbrow Mills & Boon and Shakespeare in Love."

Patricia has given the gift of brutal honesty. Her feedback includes the following points:

1. My world building is awry. Despite the fact I know all the details about the year and place of setting (London, 1821) and despite the fact I blogged about how important historical details are to world-building, I have failed to do this in my own manuscript. My costume descriptions are vague; there is no mention of the political context. In actuality, I have been tripped up by my own over compensation - in my fear of over-writing, I have neglected the important stuff.

2. There is minor character proliferation. Patricia counted no less than five incipient romances by the end of the book and worst still, at least one of them seemed more compelling than the main one. It's the very minor character mutiny I feared! In order to save my main protagonists there is going to have to be a wholesale massacre - one or two of the little folks won't make the final cut. No fear. Their immortality will be preserved in an out takes file and one day, I might give them a story of their own.

3. My heroine is annoying. Not really annoying but a bit. She's inconsistent, she... gulp... verges on the priggish at times and passive at others. This isn't the way I envisaged Rachel: she's supposed to be a strong woman in situation that challenges all her preconceptions. If that isn't coming across she needs rewriting - and that's a BIG job.

Overall, I have largely ignored all the advice I gave in my own blog post Writing Lessons from the World of Sci Fi.


Happily, one of the magical aspects of writing is the ability to shape - and reshape - the world of your own creations. Characters can be destroyed and recreated in another universe, or developed and matured; settings can be brought into sharp relief and new life breathed into tired dialogue.

And what about Godmother 3?

Andrea has given the gift of craftsmanship. Her detailed critique includes line by line analysis pointing out the things I am doing well (dialogue, tension and description) and not so well (information overload, issues with the heroine and minor character proliferation).

Having had a little break from the manuscript to do some important things like photograph a wedding, watch Ulysses 31 and start work on Sisyphus I'm ready to revise.

And revise.

And revise.

And then I'm going to enter some of RWA competitions (my discovery of these are also due to Fairy Godmother 3) and get MORE critique until my baby is lean, strong and ready to go out into the world without me holding her hand!


Patricia said...

Always happy to help. I do want to see the story of the hero's brother

Meg McNulty said...

He's gradually being erased, poor Richard he never has any luck! I will give him his own story though!

Unknown said...

It takes a lot of courage to place your baby in others' hands. It's great that you have trustworthy people supporting you.

Good luck with the contests. One word of advice on contests... Your feedback can be varied and the judges aren't always right. Weigh each piece of advice carefully before incorporating it into your wip. Contests are also a tool to move your work to the top of the slush pile. They are not a measure of a mss's value. :)

Meg McNulty said...

Thanks Samantha - really good advice!