Recently I went back to a book that I’d begun and set aside about a year ago. I’d gotten about 18 thousand words into the novel before I set it aside for a variety of reasons.
I opened the document with a lot of trepidation. Would the writing be painful to read, in the way that reading old manuscripts often is? Would I sneer at it? I’m always eager to find fault with my own work.
With a lot of fears, I read through the text. Okay, it wasn’t great. But then again it was a first draft, and for a first draft is was actually pretty good. In fact, the voice was even shining through. (For me, voice evolves more during the editing phase than the first draft.) I was pleased.
I decided to edit what I’d already written to get me into the text before I started writing new material. It went very well—I expanded underwritten sections. (I’m a terrible underwriter. In fact, I call my first drafts “plot drafts” because I focus mostly on getting the story out there rather than fussing with the execution of the plot. Finished versions of my books are usually a good 10 to 20K words longer than the first drafts.)
The editing was going at a decent clip, until I got to Chapter Four. Suddenly I stopped. The next sentence was wrong. It’s not what my MC would do. I knew exactly what he would do, and it wasn’t even close to what I’d written. My MC was taking a different route, and he wanted me to follow him. I stopped writing and went to fold laundry.
Housework is great when I need to think. It keeps my hands busy—I tend to have a lot of nervous energy when I’ve reached a Rubicon* in a novel. I folded about three loads of laundry while I pondered the Rubicon. Should I cross the river and follow him into a new twist in the plot? If I did, what would happen to the rest of the chapters I’d written? Would I have to abandon them?
Because I’m a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, I have to trust my characters. They write the stories. I’m just along to do the transcribing. My MC stood on the other side of the Rubicon, motioning for me to hurry up and write out the new plot line. So I crossed, not knowing where the story would take me. (At least Julius Caesar knew he was on the way to Rome—or his death.)
Of course, I spent a couple of days trying to find out where my MC was leading me. I didn’t want to write without having an idea of where we were going. But he didn’t tell me. I just had to follow. So I did. He and the other characters are still being pretty-closed mouthed. But I see where we’re headed, and I’m pretty sure it will fit in with the other chapters. And the book will be much better for the crossing.
How about you, readers who write? Do you sometimes find yourself standing beside the Rubicon?
*The Rubicon was a river in Italy. Roman law forbade a general to cross the Rubicon southward with a legion, i.e. to march on Rome. By crossing the Rubicon with his army, Julius Caesar was committing to taking over Rome.