To delete, or not to delete

Ellen CurtisSometimes the hardest thing to do is to take your own advice. Part of my job as an author on the convention circuit means I am constantly asked for writing advice. Sometimes, people want help figuring out how to develop characters, how to plot out a novel, or just what my general writing process is like. A lot of times though, people come to writing panels because they’re suffering a bigger problem, such as the dreaded writer’s block.

Some people –cough cough- Matt –cough cough- don’t believe in writer’s block. In fact, Matt’s gone so far as to call it writer’s laze, saying that people just aren’t focusing enough on their work, etc. etc. I don’t buy into this at all.

I’ve struggled with writer’s block in the past in some pretty severe ways. The Tourniquet Reprisal was challenging for me to write, not just because of my busy personal schedule at the time, but because I was struggling with the direction we were taking with the series. Looking back, there are lots of things I would have liked to do differently with my contributions to the novel. That said, this view stems from where I am now, years removed from the project and after having completed a degree that trained me to analyze fiction. The old adage, that you are your own worst critic, holds true for me I think, and it is entirely to Matt’s credit as ‘show runner’ for Reprisal that it turned out so well despite my struggles with it.

The Tourniquet ReprisalGiven the hardships I had with Reprisal, I faced a daunting task heading into Exodus of Angels. I very much wanted to redeem myself for what I viewed as a failure to my partner. I dropped the ball; as I said in the last blog, I wasn’t prioritizing my creative endeavors the way I wanted to due to the workload I was dealing with. Exodus presented me with my turn to be show runner though, which meant I needed bring my A game.

I went into Exodus excited. The plot had mostly been hammered out since Matt and I first sat down to discuss Infinity. I knew what I wanted to do, I felt I had some really strong characters, and I felt that the plot was exciting and hearkened back to some of the aspects of Infinity that were missing in Reprisal. Talking it out with Matt, both of us were pretty excited to start in on writing. Thematically, we were hoping to tackle some pretty big issues that we were really excited to bring to the series.

Cinders (Xander Drew, #1)Matt, as the writing powerhouse he is (you guys have seen how many Black Womb/Xander Drew books he’s got out, right?), hammered out the majority of his portion of the novel fairly quickly. I have to say, it is honestly one of the most emotionally mature pieces I think he has written, and I am so proud of what he accomplished with it. His success with the ‘B’ plot of the novel didn’t translate to my success with the ‘A’ or ‘C’ plots though.

The first few scenes came out easily, but my writer’s block from The Tourniquet Reprisal was sticking around like a stubborn cold. Something wasn’t adding up for me, and I wasn’t sure what it was.

I didn’t think it was my new character. I had been so excited to write her for so long, and my idea of her was so concrete that it felt very natural to translate her experiences. She was a fully formed person in my mind, and seemed to have a life of her own that could carry an interesting story.

I also knew my issue was not with Matt’s submitted portion of the novel. He had hammered out such a solid piece that was so grounded and natural; it only made me more excited to work on my portion. That said, my portion began posing problems for me around the time I read his piece, and I wasn’t sure why. Looking back now, I recognize it was just coincidence, but at the time I wanted to explore every avenue rationally to figure out what wasn’t working.

Though we had talked about what we wanted to do scene by scene before for each plot, we hadn’t really worked out on paper how the scenes would be combined. Sitting down, I tried to tackle the issue and find out where my issues were stemming from. Was there a glaring issue with the plot I has glossed over? Were characters acting in ways that served the plot but didn’t mesh with their established personalities? Was it a case of the subplots not complimenting the main plot? Was there a deep flaw with a character that I was ignoring?

The answer to some of those questions ended up being yes. I was open to pretty much any issue being the cause at the point where I was doing this, I wanted to resolve my issues that badly. That said I was really hoping that I would line everything up and see only minor things that needed changes. What I saw at the end surprised me though.

Matt and I agreed on several things a long time ago when we first started writing Infinity. Some of that encompassed what would happen with particular characters, while other aspects were concerned with overarching plot. Looking at the outline for Exodus of Angels, I began to see some big issues that prompted me to re-evaluate what we had already decided on.

I sat on the problems for a little while and mulled them over myself. I think I examined every loophole I could for the two glaring issues I had come across, but I still wasn’t satisfied with doing anything other than scrapping them and starting fresh. It was a frightening prospect. I’ve said in panels before that people shouldn’t be afraid to delete huge swaths of writing if those chunks just aren’t working, but doing it in practice is a lot harder. Some of the scenes I had been the proudest of writing in years suddenly didn’t seem to fit the story, even though they were in keeping with the plan we had agreed on so long ago. In my mind, it was frighteningly clear: those scenes needed to go.

Matt and I have frequent meetings as co-authors. The Infinites novels are hugely collaborative works, so it really is a necessity to maintain an open dialogue while we’re writing. Despite that, I was very nervous to table such big changes. Two characters from two different plots would undergo vastly different things than we had agreed on originally, and it would result in different characters taking a more prominent role in the series while others would become far less prominent.

Tabling the ideas with Matt sparked a two-hour long conversation, which for us is actually very time effective. The success of our writing relationship exists very much in an openness and willingness to compromise between the two of us. He was blissfully receptive to the changes I proposed, and agreed with me that there were no really good ways to solve our issues other than what I was proposing. We both came away from the conversation knowing what direction we wanted to take the next few books in, and feeling that we had made a good decision about the future of the Infinites novels.

Am I just hitting delete on the scenes I have written so far? Nope, definitely not. They’re getting shelved for now, in a separate folder where I can revisit them in a different novel, for a different character, if I so choose. I’m doing that because, like I said, I was really happy with the way these scenes came out. It wasn’t a matter of not feeling the way the scenes were turning out, in which case I probably would toss it in the trash.

At the end of the day, even though we had these plots and character arcs on the books from the beginning, they just didn’t work for the story we are trying to tell. As much as it hurt, good writing sometimes means making rational decisions over emotional ones. I was emotionally invested in the story arc we had planned, in the journey’s our characters had been set to take, but at the end of the day it just didn’t work. Stepping back to examine our revisions to the story, we’re creating something stronger in the absence of those issues, and I can’t wait for you guys to be able to read it.

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