Thursday, June 23, 2011

my novel's journey: Discovery: Analyzing the story that doesn't work

Sometimes, I know intuitively where a story is failing--or I can show it to my best friend, Ann Lewis, and she can pinpoint the problem like a Great Detective she's written about. In fact, she did that once with Discovery by helping me realize that the plot was too small and--when I complained I felt like I was writing "Love Boat" in space, she made me see I had underutilized my alien ship. In 2009, that made all the difference in the world.

However, in 2011, I have a bigger plot and a great angle on the ship, but it still doesn't work. This time the mess is in the details, and, with 98,000 words written, it's not intuitively obvious. This time, I need to be the investigator.

I've never had to work this hard on a novel, and truth to tell, I've started this process and put it aside several times, trying to jump ahead to intuition. However, it's not worked, so today, I grabbed a stack of paper, colored pens and the computer.

I started just by scanning the entire manuscript. This helped me get back into the mind of the characters and get the gist of the plot. I could already see places I wanted to make changes; however, I refrained from anything but the most minor of edits. I did make some comments in the margins, though.

Now that I had the story fresh, I started mind mapping. Mind Mapping is really the new term for bubble brainstorming: put the main idea in the center bubble, put related idead in connecting bubbles around, and connect until you get the whole. It can look like this (when neatly done):

Step one is to find THE main idea. Holly Lisle says if you can't tell the theme in a single sentence (a simple one at that), then you don't understand your book. I realize now, it's taken three years for me to understand Discovery, but what a revelation now that I do!

I finally understood my main idea: An alien device enables people to see the damaged parts of their souls. Everything will relate to that. So that was my central circle. From there, it was easy--I made circles for the folks who experienced the device and what their damage was. From those circles, I drew causes, effects, others that they influence or are influenced by.

This gave me my cast of major characters and main subplots. After that, I did the same kind of mind mapping for each character and their particular weakness.

Wow, did this work! Now only was I able to clearly define my story, but I also determined who is an important character and who is secondary (which means I can kill some off), but I also discovered some of the holes in the plots I needed to fill and better yet HOW and WHY they needed filling. If I had wanted to, I could have started from scratch with those ten sheets and written the entire book.

But I had 98,000 words already written! Most of it is really good, too. So rather than start over, I now went to analyze the manuscript itself.

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