Have Brain, Will Travel

Hello, and welcome to another confession week. Please allow me to introduce myself.

In my last status report I was absurdly confident about the “doneness” of my book.

If you will.

I created my agent list. I took apart my old query letter and started fiddling. I read everything about query letter writing I could get my hands on.

And that’s where things started to fall apart.

You see, gentle readers, the initial draft of my manuscript was so absurdly long, yet felt so rushed, that I ended up chopping that sucker in half. This mangled the story arc of my protagonist pretty badly, but I managed to distract myself from this by working on the other two POV characters instead, and getting really overfussed about the how the timelines synched up. Many of my Act I revolvers did not go off in Act III, because Act III is now Book II. And throughout all of this frankenchopping, my cheerful refrain was It’s fine! It’s all part of the greater story-arc! It’ll be in Book II.

Book II, the magical land where all my payoffs live.

So anyway, I sat down to write a new and improved query and found myself unable to adequately answer the question, What is this book about? This book. Not the next one. Not the third one. This one. I got out my copy of Plot & Structure and started cherry picking through. And this is about the time that I realized…

There is no climax.

Nothing in my ears but the whistling of the wind.

Oh, there’s the confrontation that I thought was the climax, until I realized it didn’t deliver on any of the promises set up in the beginning of the book. So that’s … problematic.

So now I’m in a big me-shaped hole in the bottom of a ravine. The good news is the climatic scene popped into my head about an hour after I realized it wasn’t there. I know exactly what to do. But just to make sure that my structure is strong throughout, I compiled a list of questions to answer for each chapter. Here’s my template.

Chapter #
How many pages?
What is the plot development?
What is the character development? List proactive moments.
Where is the rising tension? What is set up/paid off?
Does the chapter end with a hook?
Does this chapter fire on all cylinders? As a reader would I be happy with this? Is it balanced?

Answering all these questions thoughtfully is grueling, I’ll admit it. I’m not even done yet. But already it has become an invaluable analytical tool, and I will definitely subject the other POV lines to it when I get done with my protag.

And even though it’s hard work, it’s also kind of fun, because you can babble to yourself about whether a particular scene works or not to your heart’s content, without ever worrying that you’re pushing the limits of some writer-friend’s patience.

Anyway. Me-shaped hole.

It’s not too bad down here, actually.