Oh, Horrors!

It was one of my favorite expressions as a teenaged girl. I was a very odd sort of teenaged girl.

I’m in anguish. After having written a detailed outline of my Ayleth/Dragon story, and come within 5,000 words of finishing it (I can write 1,000 words in an hour) I realized two things.

One, it felt dull. True, the dialogue was engaging and the physical setting was rich and colorful; the plot was well-conceived and the storyline was meaningful. But it was set in a very generalized sort of fantasy village and it’s full of manufactured culture. I’ve never exactly researched village life. 

Two, no boy would ever read it because it had no action, but was full, rather, of conversations and subtle interpersonal nuances. Even at the climax of the story, where Werner steals the Dragon’s heart, it’s done by trickery and a swift slash of the knife. I may not change that but it seems like there should be some running and jumping and racing and maybe even a little fighting somewhere.

So, being the honest person I am I instructed Scottie to tell me that my story stinks. He carefully framed his answer in such a way that he said no such thing but I pretty much knew that he felt it could use some work.

Now I know a lot of people laugh at the idea that a person’s spouse could be their true best critic. However, one of our earliest dates involved us sitting in a Steak-n-Shake while I slurped on a malt and listened to Scottie critique and analyze, from memory, the entire plot of Great Expectations. (Half of you guys were turned off by the idea of a girl slurping, and the other half wished your own wives would sit silently and let you make a speech that long.)

Well, in short order Scottie had outlined for me exactly what he thought I should do with the story. I pressed him a little more, argued a bit, and asked him to tell me exactly why A Wrinkle In Time still sells. (Because it combines fantasy and science fiction, usually set in the past and the future respectively, and plops them in a thoroughly modern setting dealing with stuff we deal with.)

So here’s the decision. I have to re-write the book entirely – now you see why I’m in anguish – and put Ayleth in the house I grew up in, outside a little Wisconsin town in our time and world. She’s going to discover a secret reptile world – just exactly what I would have loved at that age except it would have been fairies instead of reptiles – and move back and forth between the two worlds. She’ll bring the Dragon back with her, he’ll burn some farmer’s fields and go home. The farmers will take Hannah Drasp and Ayleth to court over it, and Hanna Drasp will tell Ayleth that the only way she can ever be forgiven is if she goes back into the world and gets the Dragon’s heart. Werner, who she’ll have played with sometimes and been uncomfortable with other times, will help her out. Dr. Vegter, the best Dentist in town and Werner’s father, will befriend Ayleth and play a part in discovering that Hannadrasp has been playing with magic, setting Ayleth up to do what she did. (If Ayleth dies, Hannah gets the house, which belongs to Ayleth. If Ayleth brings back the dragon’s heart, she gets the heart.) It will finish up pretty much like the original plot. Except there won’t be a King to go to for approval and help once all’s done, so the ending will be much sadder in my opinion.

I also have to make Werner more of a main character and add in some action. These three things combined will hopefully make my book more appealing to boys and girls alike.

When I think of the fact that I first researched reptiles for this story three years ago, and that I almost finished my third draft today and that now I have to start all over again…

I’m in anguish.

P.S. Is this new plot too much like The Magician’s Nephew, anyone?

13 thoughts on “Oh, Horrors!

  1. I find it funny that you get so caught up in the interpersonal aspect of the story. Having read and attempted to read a few novels by women for women, one thing I can tell you for certain is that women have an entirely different way of thinking…but you knew that already. Your case really isn’t any different from a lot of well-published authors out there. My sincere advice is that you need to find a female reader to judge your work. There’s nothing wrong with having a low-action plot, so long as you successfully appeal to your target audience. Your husband may not be your target audience. Figure out who you’re really writing for and let them critique it. Ultimately, even successful novels are not written for a majority of the population, because people are all so different.

    By the way, I’ve always had a similar problem, but in reverse. I planned out a seven-novel series with a complex plot and a carefully rendered map, but I quit partway through the first book when I realized that I was totally incapable of developing well-rounded characters with interpersonal relationships. The characters could easily have been replaced with fighting robots, and the plot would not have suffered for it.

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  2. Fighting robots…that’s great.

    I think that’s great advice, assuming that my target audience is girls. But I’ve had the idea all along this this was going to be a book for both boys and girls. For one thing, I’m aware that the very best novels usually appeal to both sexes because the elements are so well balanced. If I can possibly do that, I want to. For another, I like boys – they’re more straightforward than girls and in that one area I’ve always identified more with guys than girls. (I’m one of those gals that was really close to my brothers and always had plenty of guys to talk to but no suitors.) And when I realized that the publishing industry is dominated by women now and that there are about twice as many books for girls as for boys…well, I guess I just like to make it hard for myself.

    Perhaps what we both need to do is push through our weaknesses and become better-rounded authors. I’m sure you can learn to do interpersonal stuff, and I can learn to do action.

    Either that or we need to collaborate. 😉

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. I didn’t think of the Magician’s Nephew, but I did think of Peter Wimsey’s critique of Harriet Vane’s main character/detective 🙂 How terrific for you to have a husband who likes to discuss plots – that is a real gift.

    I think a key issue is that you yourself thought your draft was dull. You don’t want to be satisfied with it as just good enough for a niche market. Good for you being willing to rework it! You may still be able to use some of the good dialogue, etc. from this draft. I do think moving between worlds is inherently facinating for adolescents and adults. I can think of several books myself that I like using that device.

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  4. Ah, yes…if I couldn’t have Scottie I’d definitely be pining for Lord Peter.

    I think you are right…if it didn’t sparkle for me, how could I possibly send it out for others to read? Traveling between worlds is good, but my only concern is that it’s so overdone right now. I think the main reason I’m doing it is that I want to set Ayleth somewhere I can write about in an intimate way…but I also need her to interact with this talking six-legged serpent. So, it seems organic to the plot. Unless I just have it that our own world has this secret dimmension of talking reptiles…

    I think I will have a King after all…in the other world. Perhaps the reptile will be a Scalish nationalist, and he enlists Ayleth to help overthrow the King only when she finally meets the King she realizes he’s the “good guy.” I’m working on that; it might present some possibilities for introducing more action. I also think Ayleth will have a real family, and I’ll give Hannah Drasp to Werner. My husband doesn’t like it but I’m putting that down to his hatred of change.

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  5. If you are using your house from childhood, I would think it would take on a certain ‘childhood frame’ just because your memory of it is a child’s memory.

    What if our world does have a secret dimension of talking reptiles? That dimension could have a king. Could it be sort of layered – our world and another world that coexist and not everyone can see it? I like the theology of that.

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  6. Just cruising by on the internet highway and stopped by for a short break… I have not read anything that you have written except this here and therefore have no real frame of reference to make any sound judgments. I generally don’t even like novel (except Dostoyevsky because of his psychological and spiritual insights). Having said all this and for what it is worth, it seems like there are is a plethora of novels and television shows dealing with time travel and change between worlds. The Wizard of Oz, Chronicles of Narnia, any book by George McDonald and even Dragon Tales which my children get sucked into from time to time, although the later does not hold up to any real literary standards. I’m also willing to bet that there are countless others as well. My question would be; what would make your take on different worlds unique? Sorry if this offends. I am also the person that used to tell my friends that the band they were in was not exactly my style…

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  7. This story was originally inspired by the WI landscape (I was taking a walk three autumns ago and found a hidden little meadow where nearly all the foliage was red and the grass seemed to form tunnels) and I don’t want to simply rely on convention for the rest. Here in our new state of residence, the voices of the trees and grass sound foreign and the friendly sunshine seems to fall on alien earth. However I just spent an hour by the lake thinking about all this. And perhaps those very alien voices have a suggestion to make.

    I was definitely considering having the coexisting world you suggest, Beth, and I was trying to define what exactly was different about my story as you ask, SW, and it seemed to center on the reptiles. Then it occured to me that perhaps instead of having any other world at all, I should simply have a secret colony or whatnot living in this hidden fire meadow – men who through some sin of theirs were cursed to take on reptile form and small size. Only their King has not succumbed and remains human, but he has assumed their small size in order to lead them back into whatever restitution or reconstitution is possible for them. The Six-Legged Snake is the only original reptile among them; through him they fell. When Ayleth, a reptile enthusiast, finds the fire meadow and accidentally invokes the Snake, he appears and begins talking to her. He does not tell her the true story of the reptile-men but pretends that his own leadership of the reptile kingdom has been usurped by the human king. He enlists her help to overthrow him but eventually she learns the human king is the rightful one. Perhaps a sequel could deal with the men regaining human form.

    More original, I think?

    Beth, would you elaborate on what you meant about the childhood frame, with the house? I’m not sure what you are getting at.

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  8. Well, I thought of one of my childhood homes, my favorite one that we lived in for 5 years (age 9-14). It was in the country and an old-fashioned two-storey house with stoves instead of central heating. I had an upstairs room by myself and freedom to roam around a huge area outdoors. It comes back in my dreams like a lost happy world, and I certainly wouldn’t be drawing on it with adult eyes if I were writing about it. I can see it very clearly in my mind’s eye, but probably no adult would have seen what I saw. I was thinking that memory of place from childhood would be useful in a child’s story, because it already carries something from childhood with it. Just a theory, unfortunately, since I can’t say I have written anything about my childhood home…

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  9. This is one of my many problems too. I try so hard to make the story original and meaningful at the same time–then this is what I come back to. It becomes a clichéd fantasy and the characters beginning to talk horribly without my permission.

    These things take time… and I just don’t feel I have it, you know?

    PS: That Paolini post was for me to just get it out all at once 🙂

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  10. The frustration is understandable.

    I won’t tell you that you do have time…because none of us knows that. But I believe each of us has time to do whatever we are meant to do, and to do it well. If I had to guess, I’d say you’ll do just fine if not better.

    I’m honored you stopped by.

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