In this post, last month, I set out my plan to edit my first NaNo novel, The Phoenix Fire. I planned to post an update on the last day of each month, so here we are.
The plan for this month was simply to read through and make some notes. I was looking for big-picture faults and I tried to go into it open to anything – changing characters’ genders, adding or removing characters, altering the POV, amending the plot and adding subplots… anything you could imagine. I finished doing that yesterday and along the way I’ve had some useful revelations.
1. The POV needs work but is probably the right choice.
I wrote the story in a close third person style, in other words “Adam did this” but with a strong bias on what Adam experienced and how he experienced it. Occasionally, the text wanders away from this, seeing something Adam couldn’t have seem, and that needs fixing. I also need to put a little more distance between the narrator and Adam in places, and I’ve been reading “How Fiction Works” to learn how to better achieve that. But fundamentally, it is Adam’s story.
2. The Plot needs beefing up
As I mentioned on Monday, the plot needs more to happen: more tension and drama, more suspense and interest. I’ve thought of a couple of ways to do this, including introducing a new character for Adam to play off against, but also, bizarrely, I’m hoping to achieve this adding richness partly by cutting. Specifically, two things.
a) I have a habit of writing EVERYTHING that happens. You know that saying that nobody ever goes to the toilet on TV (except to have important conversations at the urinals)? Well, Adam goes to bed and gets up about 50 times in this novel and it’s BORING. So I need to have the confidence to drop him at the end the interesting part of a day and not pick him up until the next interesting thing happens, even if it’s hours or days later.
b) The first third of the novel drags. And isn’t very interesting. Things only really get going around the mid-point and actually the most interesting and well-written part of the novel is a massive tangent about his niece. Either that needs cutting, or it needs to take on a new importance. I’m going for the latter and starting the novel there(ish).
3. The Themes are all over the place
I’m a little suspicious of anyone who suggests that novels need a central Theme, or a Hypothesis, or whatever other words they choose to use. A lot of great novels don’t have this, or only have it in the sense that somebody has clearly come along after the fact and announced that it’s all about whatever.
However, TPF doesn’t have anything resembling a theme, or a point, and it’s poorer for that. The writing style isn’t too bad, but it’s impossible to tell anything about the target audience or what you want them to get out of it. If I had to give a one sentence summary, it would sound like a Romance, but the writing fails at that on several fundamentals and it’s not what I wanted. So as part of stripping out the chaff, I’m cutting much of the romance and making it a novel about the Phoenix Fire. Which is helpful, because that’s the title!
4. The writing isn’t bad
Most of it isn’t actually badly written. Apart from the specific problems I’ve mentioned above (and a few over-used words where I’ll need to do a find/replace sweep later), which lead to me having written “BORING” next to various paragraphs, it’s actually OK on a writing level. Even the sex scenes are less cringe-worthy than I feared, and I *know* I’m cutting them!
What it needs is a lot of big-picture work.
Still, that’s what this edit was all about, and I’m brimming with ideas on how to fix the problems. It will take a lot of new writing and some difficult edits, but I’m ready. Next stop, some planning away from the text!