You will rarely write anything where you don’t – at some point – hit a stumbling block, a wrong turn, or a dead end.
I hit my first wrong turn in TFSoLY, which is a result of me still trying to feel my way through the world and find out more about it. I like the introduction of the two central characters, but then I wanted a tour of the protagonist’s daily life.
Only the way I was doing it wasn’t working – a wrong turn.
Taking a wrong turn is a bigger problem than hitting a stumbling block or a dead end. A stumbling block is a minor annoyance – something you can work through. Often, with a stumbling block you can use a patchwork solution that will hold until revision provides alternatives. You hit a dead end and that’s it. You know that’s not the way to go and you need to take a different way. Usually, that’ll take time to discover. You might ruminate on it for hours, if not days (and, granted, there’s more extreme cases).
But in taking a wrong turn, the words are coming. I happily wrote 500 words about Luke’s daily professional routine. We got to see the bar/bistro he worked in (as well as learn a bit about its history), and met two of his co-workers, as well as his boss. I could’ve gone on and on. But, as I wrote, the editor in me was examining the scene and declaring it was already too long, and if I continued it that it would grow longer without adding too much to the overall story.
When this happens, I always correlate it with trying to find exactly where I want to go. It’s like driving to a location you’ve never been before, and only having a rough idea of how to get there. You might have to take a few wrong turns and explore a few wrong streets before you work out that’s not the way to go. But in taking those wrong turns, you usually will work out the right way. The problem is how much time and energy you waste on exploring those wrong turns – hopefully it’s not so much that you become disenfranchised with the whole project.
Ultimately, I cut the scene and stuck it in a new file – TFSoLY (EXTRACTS). I’ve done this for all my major works (books and screenplays), archiving these cut scenes, the way DVD and BluRay releases of movies nowadays feature DELETED SCENES.
Interestingly, Just Another Week in Suburbia and August Falling didn’t need EXTRACTS files because the early drafts emerged relatively well-formed. Still, to be fair, after Just Another Week in Suburbia was selected for the Hachette Manuscript Development Program in 2013, the wonderful Bernadette Foley – then the fiction publisher for Hachette – gave me such precise feedback about what I should be looking at in the early draft of JAWiS, that I cut and rewrote about one/third of the book, which then became the draft that Pantera Press accepted. Those cuts now exist only in earlier drafts. Such cuts weren’t required from August Falling, but my fantastic editor at Pantera, Lucy Bell, provided me such comprehensive feedback that I worked out what areas I needed to develop.
Anyway, the biggest extracts file I have is 8,000 words, which is not a bad effort given it’s for a novella that’s only 20,000 words. In that case, much of the original openings were cut. For one of my screenplays (which ended up being optioned in 2006), I got to 95 pages (of an intended 120), felt it wasn’t working, and cut 90 pages and started over. I have heard of authors who’ve cut much, much more of their work.
But now I do feel I’m on the right course. I’m sure there’ll be other wrong turns, but I like the way TFSoLY is going.
Last Week’s Lie: I said while handwriting my book way back in 1985, I’d survive on a diet of tea and cigarettes (true), or seven or eight Red Bulls. That part of the sentence is a lie. Red Bull was created in 1987 in Austria, and didn’t arrive in Australia until 1997.