A “Quick” Backstory For My Novel, Part 2

Here’s the continuation of my novel’s backstory. ‘Backstory’ in the sense of how, in real life, my novel came to be. Part 1 of the story is here. I left off at where I’d written my first (typed) draft with the novel writing group.

September 2020: I was finished my first (typed) complete draft. It was around 50k words, and I was pretty excited because I’d never before written anywhere near as much in a single project.

I had a ton of momentum going but nothing left to write because I’d reached the end! Also, the story was sharpening in its details and becoming more real to me.

In preparation for working with a developmental editor, I immediately went back and did some cleanup. My writing was in many different files and needed stitching together. (Interestingly, I’m in a similar phase now, in July 2022, on a later draft. I guess I just like writing in a ton of different files.)

October 2020: I worked with a developmental editor to analyze the story structure, map out all the scenes, ponder their purpose, and strengthen them. This was hugely helpful, and I had clear next steps. My editor’s recommendation was to go about making the rewrites, methodically, starting with Act I.

I’m not sure how long I spent, but I made spreadsheets and identified changes. I came up with a plan where I’d make multiple passes through the story, each time focusing on a different aspect. Such as the character arcs, world-building, and pacing.

February-April 2021: I signed up with my novel-writing group again for the second draft. I felt ready. The jumble of scenes had clicked into place within well-defined, coherent sequences that built to their own mini climaxes.

The sequences finally clarified, for the first time, how these mysterious things called plotting and pacing worked.

For the second draft, I was expected to post chapters in the writing group for review, and provide feedback to other writers. I wasn’t sure how this was going to fit with my multi-pass approach, where I only wanted feedback on the specific story-aspect I was working on. I got bogged down in trying to fit the structure of the class with how I seemed to work, intuitively. 

I ended up deviating from my plan and strengthening the first few chapters in more ways than I’d intended. 

Overall, the effect was that I didn’t come anywhere close to finishing my draft in the prescribed time, but the first chapters became a lot stronger. And my fellow-writers seemed to resonate with some of the characters, which felt pretty nice. No one had met my characters except me, till then.

May – November 2021: I had a more polished draft of a few of the ‘sequences’ that made up my novel, and many more to go. I had a much better sense of how to structure a sequence and make it exciting (to me, anyway). 

But I started getting stuck again, and I wasn’t sure why. For the next sequence, I needed a lot more clarity on my fictional world. But I’d been planning to do a full pass on character arcs before worrying about worldbuilding questions. I kept struggling through and tried to keep drafting so I could be done with this pass. 

I was constantly torn about what aspect of the project to work on. There were questions about the worldbuilding that were really bugging me and pulling at my attention. But I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to worry about that until I fixed what I was currently working on. Which I couldn’t – not confidently, anyway, because it depended on a world building question. After going in circles on this for a while, my momentum fizzled out, and I stopped working on the novel for nearly five months.

To be continued.

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