This week, I spent a good deal of time scrapping my old outline and writing a new one. I deleted an entire scene that would have effectively killed off two characters, since I wanted more time with them. I also created a new character and listed out the details of his timeline. I conducted research. I daydreamed and came up with new ideas and character traits.
I found myself aided in all this by a rather serendipitous event: At the Harvard Bookstore Warehouse Sale last weekend, I’d stumbled across a heavily discounted copy of The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing, compiled by the editors of Writer’s Digest.
This week, I found a section in the handbook written by Karen Dionne particularly helpful. Her advice focused on character backstory, which I now realize abounds throughout my draft. I was having trouble with the next hefty scene I’d planned to write, and, after reading Karen’s chapter in the handbook, “Weaving in a Seamless Backstory,” I discerned why: The primary objective of the scene would have been to reveal entirely non-crucial backstory.
Dionne rightfully warns against backstory that halts a novel’s forward progress and recommends, when in doubt, eliminating details about what transpired before the story began. “Listen to your characters,” she says, “Figure out what they desperately want to tell readers. Then hold these details back as long as you can.”
While I didn’t write a single word of my actual story this week, I feel like dedicating myself to getting my work back on track, structure- and character-wise, has paid off. I feel re-energized and can’t wait to continue on — starting tonight — with my 555 words a day!