I've been working on The Sharpest Claw, the sequel to The Loudest Meow since August. When I started writing this book, it felt effortless. I thought that perhaps I would just whiz through it in a month or two. (Cue ironic laughter.)
Since that time, I've written a character in and out of the story at least three times. (Now I believe that she'll show up in Book 3 of this Cats of the Afterlife series, but we'll see!) I thought that the one thing I was sure of was how this book was going to end. It's no longer ending that way. I've had a character show up in a big way that I never imagined would happen. Another character threatened to steal the show away from my main character. And another one was acting in a way that I just couldn't understand, and, try as I might, I couldn't convince her to do anything else.
By mid-January, I knew I had a problematic first draft that I could no longer “see.” I turned it over to my readers. One came back with suggestions that I thought were great. Then I tried to implement them in the draft, and the pages bit me, and I had to realize that if this reader wrote this story, those scenes would be front and center, but that's not my story. Besides, I hadn't heard from my other reader yet. Why was I going down that garden path when I hadn't talked to him yet?
When my other reader called me, he had a very different take on the book. I'm waiting to hear what my developmental editor has to say. In the meantime, in order to avoid insanity writer style (a feeling of deep gloom when you wonder if you will ever be able to create anything of value ever again), I decided that this was probably a good time to study up on my craft. I had some Audible credits lying around. I promptly ordered Save the Cat! and started listening. (I am an auditory person. Listening and taking notes is the best way for me to learn.)
I thought I was reading the book because I might want to write a screenplay in the future. But I quickly discovered that there was a treasure trove of information here for novelists. I'm specifically talking about Blake Snyder's explanations of genres and beats. He explains that there are fifteen beats that make up a story, fifteen things that need to happen, and that there are ten thematic genres. Once I finished that book, I decided to listen to Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody. I am still listening to this book. Brody takes the same information that is in Save The Cat!, but she tailors it specifically to novels. You get a better sense of where the story elements fall into your novel. She gives many examples from many different types of novels (Pride and Prejudice to Confessions of a Shopaholic to Misery and more). It's taking me a long time because while I listen and take notes, I'm having ideas on how to revise my draft. So I have to stop the audiobook and write down these thoughts. Brody also has created a very helpful PDF that you can download with your audiobook purchase. There's charts and tables and exercises to do. Here's my true confession: I rarely finish these kinds of books. If I do, I race my way through it. If I fill out the exercises, it's without much thought. I don't know if I would be so engaged if I was reading this book. I think listening to it really helps me. But I also think that there's a timing factor. I checked out Save the Cat! five years ago from my local library, and I returned it when it was due without ever opening it. But right now I'm absorbing the ideas. I'm excited. I feel like I am adding quite the snazzy tool to my writing tool kit. And I'm happy about it. I'm not moaning that it's “taking so long” and “it's so much work.” I feel like this study, this revision, this book will make me a better writer, and that is my lifelong journey, to up my skills, to let my characters sing their song