In a previous post I wrote about A Relative Invasion, a novel set in the 1940s. I chose this period to make a parallel with the situation in Europe. The central theme of the novel is rivalry. As with Germany, it is based on unexpressed envy and resentment.
I wrote in the earlier post about two approaches to writing novels, the well-organised, planned approach and the unfolding approach – usually character-led. In my case the ‘method’ can be described as disorganized but I am sure that isn’t so for all writers whose work is character-led. My lack of planned structure is worth mentioning now because of the consequences for me.
Without proper planning my novel unfolded at too great a length and I’ve had to keep rewriting and rewriting to cut it down. Then the whole must be re-read to ensure that essential facts or events have not been omitted, otherwise there would be continuity problems. Some of the cuts have been rich detail, but were not essential to the plot. If I had plotted in the first place, this constant rewriting and rewriting, editing and rewriting again would have been avoided.
My idea was to lay down the origins of the key dramatic event by showing the development, environment, inter-relationships that all led to what happened. The careful sowing of the origins of both character and events seemed a good idea to me, but the structure of a novel militates against this happening in the first chapters. Readers don’t want to wait too long for an event. If sowing a seed means the plant develops as a poor deformed thing, better to start with a plug.
I’ve cut out great swathes of the already much reduced novel. I’m sad to lose detail of setting, character history and internal dialogue but I recognise it’s necessary. Now I start with a drama instead of several seeds that will grow into one. Somehow I have to feed these in like compost around plants.
It’s worth sharing this self-inflicted problem if others can be saved from suffering in this way. I could have written two further novels in the time that I’ve needed for rewriting. At the last calculation, I found I’d spent far longer writing this, as yet, unpublished novel than I spent years ago on my Ph.D. And I’m still rewriting (24th time?) A salutary lesson.
(If you’re a beginner writer, you may find this article helpful – http://bit.ly/1bzAO9y)