Hard Truths Are Hard


I’ve had a recent opportunity to practice accepting story feedback.

I have a writing circle with a friend and former colleague K – well, it’s more of a line since there are only the two of us – and at our last meeting I took along the initial outline for Bluehammer.

In all seriousness, I have had problems with the plot of Bluehammer for a long time inasmuch as it didn’t really have one, or at least not enough of one: the whole point of last November was to inject some kind of driving plot into the narrative so as to engage the reader more rather than having it be a several-hundred-thousand-word travelogue.
And it certainly helped, but it did not help enough: reading the outline to K, even I was bored.

There are a couple of observations which K made and which I wanted to share.

  1. the character narratives don’t relate to each other until very late in the story
  2. each narrative is in sequence, but the timelines are not simultaneous which is hard to convey and potentially confusing

Both of these elements are potentially alienating to the reader. The first one especially is difficult, because it means that the reader is effectively reading three books at once rather than one book. What my friend said was that these are surmountable problems if the world is sufficiently engaging, but while I think that is true in my head I am not expressing that well enough in the writing.

K made some good suggestions for story rearrangements, but the basic options I have are:

  1. rearrange the story to make it comprehensible without being me
  2. make the writing truly excellent – which, y’know, it should be anyway, but I’m not a literary writer
  3. abandon

I mention the third option because although I have been working on this story since 2005 and I love the setting, it is proving harder than I would like to extract a solid story from the setting and characters that I have in hand.

Still, work to do on it still, and I am glad of hearing the hard truth from a friend rather than shouting into the void of editors ignoring me.

Time for some heavy outlining if I’m going to fix this.


4 Replies to “Hard Truths Are Hard”

  1. Valerie says:

    Ouch! It sucks that you’re having such a hard time getting the plot to stand on its own. I’m sure you’ll figure out a way though–even if you have to revamp it a lot. Can you insert in smaller conflicts that can keep readers interested until the real plot comes in? Or merge stories somehow? I’m sure you have other ideas floating around, maybe they can be inserted into Bluehammer.

    I feel I might have it easier being in young adult fantasy–the overarching plot doesn’t always have to be as solid as long as characters are fleshed out and getting into interesting problems. Epic fantasy would be impossible for me! (At least for now.)

    1. Dunx says:

      All good ideas, so thank you for those. I suspect that a big rework is on the cards.

      As I will note in another post sometime soon, something that impresses me about Snow Crash is that the chapters lead naturally from one to the other even when the POVs switch. I need that kind of draw onwards, or no one will read it.

      So yeah… back to the outlining tools.

  2. A. F. Litt says:

    You mention that the reader is effectively reading three books at once… Perhaps that is a possible solution, breaking out those three books into smaller novels? Then you can focus on those characters and build up some stronger (but smaller) plots. Maybe a fourth book could be where they all come together…

    Of course, I may be completely crazy and I know nothing of the plot or the structure or if this is even possible, but it might be something to explore.

    At the very least, working through some outlining and plot structuring exercises with this sort of re-structuring in mind might suggest some ways to tighten the whole thing up as a single piece, or in may inspire some fresh new ideas that could, well, lead you anywhere.

    1. Dunx says:

      I can’t help but smile at the idea of splitting this one into three books – it’s already the first in a trilogy, the trilogy having sprung from a single book I did one November…

      It’s a good suggestion and I thank you for it, but I am going to try to keep it to one book which makes sense.

      Doing the outlining is going to be the main thing, as you say.

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