It’s Thursday, which means we’re due for a Learning From The Masters post, but I’m taking a break from that this week. This week I want to talk about something that’s been on my mind a lot lately–something I hope you can help me with…
I’ve been feeling disillusioned with my creative process lately. If this sounds familiar, I suggest you read on. I could use some advice.
In writing class the other day, the class was critiquing my work, as usual, when one of them commented that even though she loved my story, she didn’t envy the amount of editing I will have to do to get it publishing-worthy. “It’s just so complicated!” she said.
Then another classmate, a guy with whom I actually formed a writing group several years ago (so he knows my writing pretty well) said:
“It wouldn’t be a Mary Kate story if there wasn’t a complicated plot with a big secret to unravel.”
And this got me thinking.
It’s true. In the stories I’ve written, there’s always a very complicated plot. A secret to be uncovered. The first novel I wrote (which I refer to as the Chateau Novel) has multiple protagonists and several point-of-view characters. Secrets the characters are keeping from one another which have to be unraveled. Jumps between present and past. Magical realism elements to be dealt with.
My second novel (the Jersey Shore Novel) has only one protagonist and POV character. But there are still secrets to be unraveled. Jumps between past and present. Several important characters to be dealt with, in both the past and the present. It’s complicated.
It makes writing hard.
It makes editing harder.
It makes querying really hard.
People have really liked both my manuscripts once they’ve read them–but these people are friends, family, and critique partners. People who have to pick them up and read them because they A) don’t want to hurt my feelings or B) I’m reading their books, too.
Trying to reel in literary agents (then publishers, then readers who have no obligation to you) is harder.
I have been told my prose is up to par; but now I know that that’s not enough.
I’ve actually started three other novels, then temporarily abandoned them. The first one follows my complicated formula: five POV characters, mansion, family secrets, a paranormal element. I abandoned that years ago, and don’t know if I will pick it back up. I hope to, but we’ll see.
The other two manuscripts I started do not have big plot secrets. They have one protagonist. There is no magical realism. There is no switch in POV. The stories progress in a linear fashion, time-wise. They are about students in high school dealing with high schooly problems.
The first one–I got a little bored with, to be honest. But I plan to return to that someday, perhaps with a more interesting protagonist. The second one is little more than a twenty page word document with some characters and scenes jotted down. I left it for the time being because I was ready to re-edit the Jersey Shore novel. But I fully intend to return to it when finished.
Now I’m wondering if I should have started with the two simpler novels.
This isn’t to say I shouldn’t dream big. I absolutely should, and you should too. But there’s something to be said for starting out more simply and working one’s way up to the big stuff.
The thing is–there are plenty of books I like that follow pretty simple plot formulas. But I didn’t want to write a book I like. I wanted to write a book I love. And the books I love all tend to be absolutely epic.
Maybe I should return to one of my simpler stories for now. Write a straightforward contemporary novel, then once I have that under my belt, return to my quest for the epic novel.
What do you think?