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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Monday, June 22, 2009

What I Learned From First Manuscript Crit - Part III

Time for items 3 and 4 on the list of things I’ve learned from a manuscript crit:

Fact 3: The Process Of Writing A Novel Is A Tremendous Learning Experience

This may sound silly but it’s not. Most of the joy of writing is the joy in getting there, not the finish (though I long greatly for that moment!). When I look back at where I was when I started this novel four years ago to where I am today, I stand amazed at the education process it has been.

Sure, there have been plenty of times it has been painful and I entertained the thought of giving up, but I wouldn’t trade the learning experience for anything.

Enjoy your journey. While I’ve only written one novel so far, I bet each one is unique in what it has to teach you.

Fact 4: Historical Fiction Requires A Balance Between Reality/The Needs Of Fiction

This applies to any fiction, really. When you do research for a novel, you have to strike a balance in honoring the facts of a person, place, event or time with the needs of telling an entertaining, reader-grabbing story.

This is the single greatest problem I have had with this story.

My novel stems from the seeds planted by reading a very brief, sketchy military report from 1864, then supplemented by a lot of research. I’m a history nut and I love Arizona more than words can say. So I have a very deep desire to do the best I can to get the details right.

There’s only one problem. The facts don’t always square up to good fiction. Take portrayal of the military for example. I’d venture a guess that when the average person thinks of someone in the military, they think of guns blazing and action all the time. But in reality, soldiers then (and I’d wager even now) spend a lot of time in “hurry up and wait” mode. Well you can do a little of that in fiction if there’s something else going on in the scene, but too much of it and you have a tension free story. Not good. I could give you some more examples but they will cross over into Item 8, which we’ll get to in a few days.

I haven’t discovered an easy answer to this dilemma. What I have found is that I have to go through multiple rewrites to keep distancing myself from my rabid determination about the facts—to loosen my death grip on some of the facts when it means building a stronger story.

This is NOT an easy thing to do. I have had some friendly battles with writer friends who want me to do something for story purposes that would completely eradicate any chance of the “willing suspension of disbelief.”

For example:

Someone wanted me to have an army officer carry out a disciplinary action directly himself rather than having one of his enlisted do it. But that’s not what officers do. They give the orders, someone else carries them out.

And to be honest, if I read a book where an author did that, it would probably blow their credibility for me and I’d put the book down. In this case, the facts win out over building up story.

But there are other times in my novel where I could choose story over fact.

I may not be in the military, but this aspect of writing is my constant personal battle. It’s unfortunately one of those hang-ups of my personality that make it such an ordeal in my writing--and why writing one book takes so long.

No doubt others struggle with this far less. How do you handle it?

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at items 5 and 6 on the list.

1 comment:

Patti Shene said...

Brenda, I am enjoying your series on the manuscript crit. Very informative and interesting. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of your posts.