Thursday, October 11, 2007

Reviewing the novel so far.....

So - I've had a few weeks away from the novel and I take this opportunity to sit down and print it out and read it, a little fresher: and I have to say I'm disappointed.

There are a couple of things that are not as good as I had hoped.
  • the opening chapter is GREAT - but it feels as thought the narration loses some of its authority after that. Not sure why this is: maybe because I was less sure of the direction of the story after the first chapter, and spent a couple of months re-writing this point, and then cut lots of it and made it much more simple and straightforward.
  • I'm not happy with the main character's character: even though my readers have all said they're happy. I guess this is where being the novelist helps, as I have a certain idea of what I want this narrator to be like, and he's not as rounded as I want. Too much of his personality is shown by action, which is something that comes naturally to me (the infamous show not tell) but I need to find another way of developing and adding to his character. Note to self: This can be a very small touch, and might not necesserily mean more than a paragraph or sentence even. And in doing it, make sure you don't patronise the reader.
  • There's a point about half way though where the narration feels like it loses momentum, the main character going home in a way that is reminiscent of an earlier chapter. Perfectly fine in real life, but stories are not real life, and they shouldn't be. It would make a much more interesting movement to cut that chapter [point B] and get directly from point A to C. Also in this chapter the problems the character face are cast in too universal a light: so they are problems that seem to affect all of England. I need to find a way of making it personal to him. I keep in mind Dicken's Tale of Two Cities, where he's dealing with a big historical event, but where the French Revolution is made personal to all the characters involved.
  • Improving the characters: I have to admit I'm lazy in the sense that I don't do things that I've heard other novelists do (like writing letters in each character's voice, writing reams character background and motivations) - I like to sketch characters in bold black and white lines, rather than try and paint them in photographic detail. But there are times I need to update that sketch, especially as the story develops and the role of the characters becomes larger and more central than I had originally envisaged. I've had my wife read out a long list of questions about these characters I'm concerned about. I have her read the list to me (a very dull task) because I like the spontineity of the response that comes out, which I feel gives me more interesting and more truthful answers for these characters. I guess in the same way that we have to act instinctively to sudden changes or surprises, without lots of pre-thought.

It's great to have had this time away from the novel, though I wish I had come away feeling happier about it all, but novel writing is all a process, and if it makes the book better at the end then it's a good thing. But it does remind me how novel writing is a process of continual disappointment - like a child that never quite lives upto the parent's expectations. High expectations are cruel to impose on children, but I think you need to have high expectations of art, because its the only way you produce your best by pushing yourself, forcing yourself to improve and make the writing better.

I'm writing all this, knowing that my writing time is going to be limited in the next few weeks as I have a few things that will keep me occupied. One is a book I need to read and review by Monday. And another is a short story competition I agreed to help judge way back in the spring, and suddenly find I have 30-odd short stories to read and judge. But it's important to go in with the right mind-set, and I like looking at other people's work:they're a nice break from my own writing.

EDIT: I was walking last night and was convinced I had to go back to the end of the first chapter and cut the other 43,000 words and start again: but I think the problem is the way the main character is introduced in the second chapter. He is found in quite a passive way, and him being passive as his first moment in the novel, gives the reader a lingering sense of passivity about him. So I think I'm going to go back and introduce him in a chapter of his own, with all the details about him that give the reader quite a different impression of him from the start. Then, I think, there is not so much I will need to edit, because there is very little internal thought, and much more character shown through action - which will still work, but the reader will interpret him slightly differently.

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