Midcourse Correction

midcourse correction

Hard a larboard! (My screencap from Horatio Hornblower)

When is something a tick or a bad habit, and when is something a part of your process that needs embraced?  This is something I started thinking about a lot in July as I essentially moved from one project (my modern, mainstream novel The Sorrow Thereof) onto a new fanfic (which we shall call Bob’s Big Adventure, just so it has a title). I got the idea for Bob’s Big Adventure as I was nearing the end of Act 1 in The Sorrow Thereof and starting to panic a bit about the direction of that novel. Since I had a new idea I was excited to run with, I figured I should just go ahead and set aside The Sorrow Thereof for a while. But guess what? As I was starting Act 2 of Bob’s Big Adventure, I began having serious questions about the direction of that story.

TV procedurals have taught me twice is a coincidence, three times is a pattern for a serial killer. Has the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 flummoxed me before? If so, perhaps there’s something trying to kill my stories.

Dock 29

This is my first Oleg Omdahl novel, and I wrote it for my first Camp NaNoWriMo several summers ago. It was the first time I tried doing a detailed outline for a novel, and it was the first time I attempted a mystery. I looked at several mystery structures, took what I thought I needed and ignored the rest. Of course, when I was diving into Act 2 (this is about 25-30% of the way into the book), I started to worry about how boring everything coming up suddenly looked to me. This is what comes from writing with a formula, right? Actually, it’s what came from ignoring it. I hadn’t thought that second murder in a whodunit mystery was important, but my novel needed something to propel it through the middle of the book. So, I stopped writing, thought about who I might kill, who might do it and why, and reoutlined Acts 2 and 3. It was my first midcourse correction, and that was fine. I was just learning mysteries.

The Queen’s Tower

If my very faulty memory is correct, I think I made it all the way through my next Oleg novel, The Science of Fire, without having to make major changes. I think it might have something to do with the fact that I knew these characters at this point, and I outlined the story to within an inch of its life. I’m currently finishing up Act 2 of the third Oleg book, Fiat Justitia, and I haven’t had to make any serious changes to my very exact outline.

On the other hand, The Queen’s Tower was a mess to write. I never have finished revising it to my satisfaction, although I genuinely want to someday. It was a novel I started with very little outline, and if you look at the hardcopy of the outline I worked from while writing the first draft, you will see that it is a giant mess of additions. And when did I realize I needed to make some pretty fundamental changes? That’s right, as I was finishing up Act 1, and I realized I didn’t have a compelling story waiting for me once I finished introducing these people I was just starting to understand.

The Sorrow Thereof

So with these experiences behind me, I should have seen my issues coming with The Sorrow Thereof, right? Well, I didn’t. I’ve done some reoutlining, but the biggest issue I still have with the structure of this book is that Act 1 doesn’t tie in particularly well with Acts 2 and 3, which I’m afraid are going to feel like a different story. If everyone will forgive the sacrilege, I noticed a similar issue the other night when J and I were watching Return of the Jedi. What does that business at the beginning with Jabba actually have to do with blowing up the Death Star? You could argue that it ties in because they had to rescue Han, except rescuing Han doesn’t require the entirety of Act 1, and Han doesn’t actually help much in Acts 2 and 3—Luke, Leia, and C3PO are responsible for winning over the Ewoks, and Lando is the one in the space battle. Han, bless his snarky heart, is actually kind of useless. Point is, I don’t want people to read The Sorrow Thereof and wonder why the hell they read the first eight chapters of the novel.

Bob’s Big Adventure

So, I thought something might be up when I found myself making some pretty profound changes to Bob’s Big Adventure as I started Act 2. (And I mean big—I went back and cut a sex scene I’d already written from Act 1 of my smutty fanfic.) I realized that the relationship I was trying to build was happening too quickly and easily, and in a story planned to run at least 70,000 words, a little slow burn would be for the best. Also, the characters involved are the kind of people who would make this difficult on themselves and others, so putting some things off will hopefully prove to be both truer to the characters as well as being more compelling.

Planning for Planning

Now, in the future, I could handle the midcourse correction in one of two ways. I could simply not let myself start writing until I have a very detailed outline, although I still had to make some changes to Dock 29, even with a good outline, so that’s no guarantee. Or, I just need to plan for the midcourse correction. Become one with the fact that once I know the characters and story a bit better and have a different perspective on it all, I’m going to want to make changes. I can go into a new project and know that I’m going to “lose” a day or two of writing in order to reoutline, and be okay with that. I can just make the midcourse correction part of my process. And I think that sounds like a pretty good idea.

~S

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