I Need Better Notes
It’s become clear to me that I need to make better notes.
Obviously, everyone’s first novel involves a steep learning curve. What’s the way you best write (the whole “plotter v. pantser” question I first came across when reading about NaNoWriMo)? How willing are you to let go of that character/plot point/lovely turn of phrase if it serves the story? How, in the name of all you hold dear, do you make the damnable thing make sense?
One of the things I’ve found is that there are an inordinate number of spots where I rushed through the rough draft—partly just to get words on the page, partly so I could keep things rolling without getting bogged down in minutiae. I can remember telling myself over and over as I frantically pounded out hundreds or thousands of words a day, “I’ll go back later.” I had every intention to flesh out these passages, to make them clearer and more cohesive. In the intervening months, though, I’d conveniently forgotten what I had meant to go back and expand, or even that I’d had that plan.
I come across them from time to time as I revise. Sometimes I notice it myself, and sometimes it’s not till after one of my critique partners (CPs) has said, “what’s going on here?” that I realize they’ve unearthed another of those passages designed as more of a sketch than a painting, and I’ve forgotten to go back and apply my palette.
What really gums up the works, though, is when I have a chimera chapter.
If you’re a “pantser” (someone who plots by the seat of their pants, rather than outlining the path of the story ahead of time), you’ve probably experienced this phenomenon. (Actually, what do I know? Maybe I’m the only one this happens to. But I’m going to pretend I’m not alone.) You’ve wended your way through a plot and finally got a first draft under your belt. If you think it’s worth saving at all, maybe you go through and look at a scene-by-scene summary to see what works and what doesn’t.
In my case, that led to me chopping out several scenes that were utterly useless, and adding in new snippets elsewhere to patch up the resultant plot holes. (I call this process “plot spackling.”) Sometimes you end up with spots that still need more spackle, and others that are high spots that need to be sanded down. In any case, some of the chapters can end up looking a bit like Frankenstein’s monster—or a chimera.
My current chapter is one such entity. It was only after having certain flaws pointed out to me that I realized I’d added spackle but never come back to sand down the surrounding text. There’s a fabulous scene that really grabs my (test) readers’ attention, but my protagonist inexplicably ignores it after the fact. It all makes perfect sense when I remember that there was originally nothing for her to notice. Events were ever so much more
boringly subtly presented before; the reader would never have known until hit over the head with it in later dialog that anything of note had even happened there.
My point, though (I’m sure I had one here somewhere), is that my past self failed me with haphazard technique during both the rough draft and initial revisions. Even if I couldn’t stop to create a beautiful landscape during the draft, or a smooth wall of text during the first hack-and-slash revision, I could have made notes. “Chapter 1, post-flashback scene: expand explanation of X” or “Chapter 4, restaurant scene: add reaction” would be simple enough, and would provide the mnemonic hint necessary to avoid the archaeological rediscovery of plot or exposition issues I’ve been finding left and right as I send work to my CPs.
So note to self: any notes would be infinitely better than none.