I try to sit and consider the book as a whole after I write it. What did I get right? What did I miss doing better? It was a vital step in the beginning. One of the mistakes I made writing the second attempt at a novel was not getting feedback during the course of writing it. I waited until the end and by that time a defect in my plot had gotten too embedded to fix. When I sent the book to agents, they responded with long letters of “You’re a great writer, you do strong characters and wonderful action scenes, but the plot sucks for these reasons.” They were right. I spent a couple months trying to figure how to fix the problems and then realized that the basic premise was broken. I put it in a drawer and wrote ALIEN TASTE.
The important thing I had learned from attempt number two was to get reader feedback while I was writing it.
I’d shared the beginning of THE DISHARMONY OF THE SPHERES and gotten a meh response. That puzzled me because I had lots of cool stuff going on. Airships. Pirates. Mechanized flying horses. Shadow dragons. Angels. Zombies that were different from any other zombie done before.
It wasn’t until I had binge-watched LOST that I realized my problem. With LOST, the writers had a cool idea of plane crash on a weird mystical island with lots of complex characters with deep backstories. But they then tried to unpack all that quickly in the pilot and following episodes to get and keep the viewers. In weekly installments, it probably allowed the viewers to fill in the gaps in their own mind, letting all the flashes of characters and plot expand, becoming more than what was really there. An illusion of more content. When watched back to back, the show’s rushed pace is frustrating and feels shallow. The viewer doesn’t have time to do the filling in that commercial breaks and weeks between the shows would allow. When a character is crowded out of the main plot thread and then doesn’t reappear until two shows later, instead of having two weeks to wonder and guess what they’re doing, the viewer sees the plot holes. (One conversation on my couch was “No one is looking for the girl!” “There’s search parties going on.” “We just watched Jack, Charlie, Sayid, Sawyer, Kate, Locke, Boone, Shannon, Michael, and even Rose. None of them are out looking, and we’ve established if one of them aren’t doing it, no one is because no one else has initiative.” “Okay, no one is looking.”)
I have a lot of stuff going on at the start of DotS. I’m trying to introduce a ton of characters, technology vastly different from ours, monsters that radically differ from what their stereotypical names imply, a historical timeline that branches away from ours, and set up a huge twist later on in the book. On top of this there’s the main character who has back story that is unknown to himself since he has amnesia. I rushed the info. While I was carefully piecing it all together, I was moving too slow to notice. The readers were coming at it at a normal pace and having the same experience I was having with binge-watching LOST. Too much shit to care.
It took watching LOST for me to realize what I’d done.
I backed up the timeline in the story to a few days before my initial start. I also decided to shuffle some of the characters' initial motivations. Originally I had Thomas desperate to escape and Alphonse reluctant to try. After a lot of consideration, I decided that logically it didn’t follow. Thomas has no clue where to escape to; he doesn’t remember anything of England except textbook learning. He’d land there with no money, no job, and no idea even what part of the country to start to find his family. He might not like his situation, but fleeing it leaves him with a vast unknown that has to be intimidating. I can unfold his motivation to escape after the first chapters. Alphonse on the other hand has family and friends and a career. If he can land a job for more than a week, he can contact his parents and get funding to return home. All he needs is a chance to reach England. Obviously, I needed to flip the characters' goals.
I posted the rewrite to my patrons. The response was better but still off.
I want to write the best damned book I can. It bugged me that things still felt off. Where was I making the misstep?
I realized that I was still rushing the information. I’d let Thomas know Alphonse’s plan from the second paragraph and by doing that, I stole from the reader the ability to experience the unfolding. I also had Thomas immediately agree to help Alphonse once he was actually asked and then laid out “the plan.” Since I knew that their plans would be blown out of the water, I felt like I was foreshadowing what needed to happen prior to blowing them up. Again, rushed information robbed the reader of the joy of experiencing the plans unfolding. Bad writer, no cookie.
I’m way behind on deadline with this book, so to drop back and drastically rewrite the start isn’t the best career move. I wanted to give to my readers the best book I could write. Once I realized why the start wasn’t working for them, I felt like I had to fix it. With this, I must press on. I need to get this done so I can write all the other books which are crying out for attention.