Sparring Partner

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A novel is both a collaborator and a challenger.

It works with you at times, revealing new avenues of thought, and subconscious ties that you’ll later pretend were intentional all along. At other times, it fights you. It tells you that you were wrong; it says you made bad choices, and the story you’re telling is a mistake. It’s easy to be upset by the conflict, but it’s better to embrace it.

Your novel wants to be better, and when you understand the struggle, you’ll benefit from the pain.

I’ve been working on Ghost City for awhile now, and the story has been altered so much that I can guarantee that my current summary as well as the title are destined for the scrap pile. It has been frustrating, and there have been times where I thought it was an impossible tale to tell, and yet I keep coming back. I figure out what’s wrong, and I come up with a solution. I understand why it wasn’t working, and I follow the new direction.

The main issues with this novel have been scope and concept. I began with the concept of a ‘ghost invasion,’ that one day an entire city would be inundated with spectres, and the mystery would be discovering their origins and purpose. Then I moved the ghosts to another city, creating a new threat and shifting the ever-present ghouls somewhere else. Now, I realize, the threat is too big, and the scope of the story too grand.

World-building, especially in sci-fi, is supremely important. It is also a burden which the writer and reader alike take on, and too much can be suffocating. My scope needed a narrower focus, one where the reader could comfortably integrate themselves into the world without feeling its weight. My latest revision won’t be an overhaul, but it will require some tweaks here and there.

Some scenes, as well as characters, will be sent ‘away’ to novel limbo. It’s possible, even if picked to the bare bone, that some portion of these scenes will be used again, but it’s also possible they’ll be sacrificed for all new material. That’s just the way it is. Fat gives way to muscle, and muscle helps burn the fat.

Your novel may be shouting at you to change. It may be whispering softly, pleading, threatening, begging to be altered. Don’t ignore it, and don’t fear it. When something is bothering you about your story, it will likely be something that bothers the reader too. It’s difficult to start over, or scrap whole scenes, especially ones you love, but it is inarguably necessary to write a great novel.

Writing isn’t easy. You’re gonna feel pain, so toughen up. Take a few hits, take a breather, adapt your strategy, and come back swinging. If you don’t fight to create the best story you can, then you’ve denied yourself and your readers a truly rewarding victory.

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