Bowing to good advice

Keep it simple
Keeping it simple

When you’ve wanted to write for a long time and you finally get started, something wonderful happens. If you’re lucky it can be like striking oil. You hit the seam and the ideas come gushing out – characters, storylines, scenes and themes flow onto the page in great abundance.

But, like an oil gusher, things can get very messy very quickly.

And you’re so happy about the oil, you hardly notice.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been offered some very good advice from various quarters – and it hasn’t been easy. In particular, I was talking to a good friend who knows her stuff when it comes to writing. She listened to me describe the knots I’ve been tangled up in on the second draft.

I’m passing on her advice, in case it applies to any other first-timers who might find it helpful. With all that’s going on in my novel, I had been finding it difficult to make the most important themes and storylines rise above all the rest. The deadline to enter the Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair is approaching fast and in my heart I knew something was not right in my manuscript.

My friend hit the nail on the head when she pointed out I had too many themes. Write down all the themes, she said, and decide which ones are central to what the book is about. Many of the others can be taken out and saved for another time, another place.

Of course I knew she was right but I was scared of the implications of this advice. It took me several attempts to even begin the process of cutting and I started to waver. What if it just couldn’t be done and the story wouldn’t work anymore? What if it was too late to change?

But I’m happy to report that I did find the courage and the insight to make the big changes. And things are looking a lot better now. Now for the next challenge – the synopsis!

14 thoughts on “Bowing to good advice

  1. Well done, Clare. This is indeed a very helpful post and you’re very lucky to have such a knowledgeable and honest friend. Wishing you all the best with the Novel Fair.

      1. Thank you – what an exciting competition. I think I’d have given it a go if they accepted e-mail entries, but alas … maybe next time. Good luck, Clare x

      2. Thanks Safia. They should really accept email entries for overseas entries. I’m still trying to fix a glitch in my new slimmed-down opening chapters …

  2. I’ve been there, Claire, throwing it all in, half thinking if someone doesn’t like strand X they might like Strand Y.Now I think, if I’m ever in doubt about someone else’s advice, I ask myself is this helping to keep it simple? Good luck with the contest

  3. I’m in the same situation. My best, most trusted beta reader suggestd that maybe my most beloved, gorgeous story thread wasn’t absolutely essential. Maybe I could cut the whole thread out. I nearly died! Solution—I made it essential to the plot. II hope everybody’s satisfied now.
    Good luck with the synopsis. It’s the hardest part.

    1. Hi Jane, in my case the story is stronger with one particular thread gone, even though I’ve lost a good few chapters and made a lot more work for myself. Glad to hear you found a way to keep yours. There are several other threads that matter more to me, and I will do my best to hang onto them.
      I’m the proud new owner of a 300-word synopsis. Thanks goodness for deadlines!

  4. Hi Clare,
    Came across your blog via Chris the Story Reading Ape’s blog – very nice! Anyhow, since I recently struggled through the synopsis writing, too, I thought I’d pass this article along: http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/a-pitch-vs-a-synopsis-the-difference-and-definitions-and-what-is-a-good-synopsis-length. Chuck Sambuchino has written several other articles on synopsis writing, and they are all helpful. You can find him at Writer’s Digest. Best of luck to you! -Valerie

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