Thursday, 21 July 2011

Sometimes You Don't Write What You Think You've Written

I'm currently working on the second draft of a novel.  This book has been a bit of an uphill struggle, and I've done a lot of playing around with the characters and the structure (and I think there's much more to come).  

Anyway, my workshopping group read the first 25,000 words or so a while ago, and gave some feedback.  Their main point - agreed by all - was that my main male character was creepy.  'Yuck', I think was the overall verdict, accompanied by a shudder.  Of course I pretended that that was funny - ha ha ha ha ha, I chortled - but inside I was appalled. How could they think he was creepy?  He was utterly gorgeous and wonderful and seductive.  

Yesterday I started rewriting the bits where he appears and...shock! horror! - he's a creep!

How could I not have seen it?  It's been like going out with some bloke who you think is the love of your life, then he dumps you, you dissolve into a soggy, broken-hearted mess for a few weeks/months, then a year later you bump into him again and think - What was I thinking of?  How could I?  He's so short/fat/ugly/boring/miserable/creepy...

My eyes have been so opened to my character's creepiness that I've decided I can't rewrite his sections, I'll have to completely write those scenes afresh without looking at the first draft just in case his latent creepiness creeps in again.  It means lots of new work, which is a nuisance as I really want to get this novel moving along, but there it is.  

What I thought I'd written wasn't what I'd written.  It took a) feedback and b) time for me to see it for myself.  Sometimes you don't write what you think you've written, and that's just something a writer has to accept.  


Alison Morton said...

I got the first draft of my next book out of the drawer a few days ago after ignoring it for nine months.

I hung my head in shame. My heroine was an unbearable prig. How could I have thought anybody could care for her? She, along with a lot of flabby prose, is undergoing major surgery.

Three things: firstly, I think I'm better writer now, secondly, I have learned to distance myself and be a critical reader and thirdly, I know that criticism from qualified people is there to help and stimulate me.

So, I may let my heroine survive, but she has a lot of remedial treatment ahead of her...

Anonymous said...

I can'texpress how comforting I find these views. I've just finished the draft of my 3rd novel. Far from wanting to celebrate, my mood is pretty low. I've a strong sense that I'm not going to like it on re-reading but will find large tracts that need complete re-working.

It's heartening to hear from other people who've been through this hoop of fire, so thanks for sharing the experience.

Jim Murdoch said...

That's the problem, we don't read the words on the page, we use the words on the page to remind us of what we thought we'd said. My wife has just pointed out a sentence in the book review I've just done which makes perfect sense to me because I know what I was meaning to say but, as she pointed out, that's not what I actually did say. Alison has the right idea, you need that distance to be able to find at least some degree of objectivity.

Sarah Duncan said...

Distance is essential, as are constructively critical readers. Good luck with your remedial treatments.

I think one shouldn't be put off by re-writing huge chunks. In my experience - both of my own writing and student writing - it always improves the work. So good luck with your redrafting!

A reason I like students to read aloud is they sometimes read what they meant to write, not what they've actually written.