Total Character Makeover

After much anticipation, I finally received some valuable feedback on my first novel, three things. Of course, the optimistic compartment in my brain was hoping for only a few minor suggestions, so I could finally send my digital baby out into the world. I am so naive. What a rollercoaster.

In general, the feedback was good. It started off with an affirmation that I am indeed a good writer, that I have a strong sense of control over all the elements: pacing, plot, theme… After that, came eleven pages of notes. Helpful notes, most of which I agreed with, but there’s one that really threw a wrench in everything…

A part of me knew, even before I sent the manuscript out for feedback, that one of my three protagonists was not all that she could be. I knew I’d based her on a stereotype, but had hoped that I’d done enough work to round her out, to make her feel unique and real. But it wasn’t enough. So here’s the most radical note I received:

“Perhaps you could cut her out of the story, and rework it to make it a love story between the remaining two protagonists…”

Essentially, cut a third of my book, and rewrite the rest entirely. Obviously, I had to sit with this. It’s a massive change to make, particularly when you consider just how long I’ve been working on this thing.

Of course, when a writer receives feedback, the understanding is that they are free to incorporate the feedback that speaks to them, and discard the rest. That’s what makes it so hard… I knew she was right. I knew Pam had to go.

The good news, though, is that no one is forcing me to through the draft into a black hole to disappear forever. I spent a day dismantling my no-longer-final draft, dissecting it into parts on Scrivener. And that’s when something surprising happened. I found myself more excited about the parts I was cutting then I was about the parts I was keeping. That led me to a new idea:

Keep Pam, change the details, develop her more fully as a character, and transform her part of the story into her own novella!

The disappointment of not being finished is still palpable, but conversely, it’s nice to be excited about the work ahead of me. Daunted, yes, but still excited. Now, my main problem is to figure out where to focus my energy and my limited free time. Do I work on Pam’s story? Do I work on Toby and Clementine? Or do I work on the completely new and unrelated manuscript that I’m about 20K words into already? I went from having one completed manuscript and a third of another, to two incomplete manuscripts and a disorganized stack of novella fragments.

That’s the creative process, guys. That’s the kind of mental puzzle you grapple when your life goals swim around inside your head all day, rather than being funneled directly into a paycheck via a manager. I’ve realized the only way to achieve my goal is to stay self motivated, which can be both a blessing and a curse. One one hand, I envy people whose life work is tangible and achievable, broken up into actionable steps. On the other hand, I believe the total freedom of creativity is what gives life meaning. To each their own.

I suppose I’m lucky. I could be stuck with no ideas whatsoever. Instead, I have too many, and all of them are competing for my attention. All I need to do is make a decision. A decision which will in turn morph into something else, most likely a shape I never anticipated to begin with. That’s the beauty of it. Evolution keeps stories fresh. I’m excited to see where it will all lead.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Genesius says:

    In regards to the elevator short story… I really enjoyed it! At first I thought the story was about the disembodied voice of the elevator or another inanimate object, but once the wires were pulled, I realized It was a ghost. I really liked the forlorn ending as well. For now on whenever I enter an elevator I will be slightly creeped out and perhaps a slight bit stimulated


    1. larahenerson says:

      Haha thanks. I didn’t really talk about my short story in this post. I’ve glad some people have read it!


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