I’ve taken a couple of online writing courses and had the original version of my novel, The Ghost Smuggler, critiqued and I’ve learnt a lot from those experiences. I’ve also learnt to trust my instincts.
I got a lot of good feedback from those courses and especially from Jeff VanderMeer’s critique and my writing has definitely improved as a result. What I noticed though, was that at least 50% of that feedback related to writing that I wasn’t happy with. There was something missing or something “off” about that part of the story that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I knew it was weak in some way, I just wasn’t sure why. Or, it was part of the story I didn’t like, I just hadn’t been able to come up with anything better.
Having a third party read the story and point out, not only that the writing was weak, but why was invaluable but it also showed that my instincts weren’t completely out of whack. I just needed to persevere and keep refining the story until it worked.
Which brings me to The Ghost Smuggler.
There’s a point in the novel where our hero gets captured by a bad guy and, being the hero, he needs to escape somehow. I’ve written those scenes several times but I’ve never been happy with them.
In the original draft there was some sitting around in a cell and then the bad guy let them go. He had his own reasons for doing that, but it was still far too convenient. In the first pass of the rewrite the sitting around in the cell ends with an action packed escape through the kitchens. It’s better, has a little bit of foreshadowing and ties nicely into a key event later in the book but I still wasn’t happy with it.
This particular sticking point has been bobbing around my mind ever since I started the rewrite and as I hurtle towards that chapter my trepidation is growing. I know it’s there and my instincts are telling me I need to fix it properly this time I just don’t know how.
At least, I didn’t know how.
This morning, as I stepped out of the shower, it hit me. The problem was not the escape itself – it was the cell. Dumping the group into a locked room for a while was creating a dead spot and the transition between the cell and the escape always felt very clumsy. I’d been using that trip to the cells for a little bit of back story but I’ve integrated that much earlier in this draft and all it does now is slow everything down. I can skip the cell, cut straight to the dramatic escape (still appropriately foreshadowed and still key to a later plot point) and, hopefully, have a much tighter couple of chapters.
Of course, I still need to write that action scene but that’s a different problem.
[The article Trust me, I'm a Writer by Philip Harris originally appeared on Solitary Mindset April 8th, 2013]