Character –> Revisions –> Frustration

Working on Camp Expendable has become an exercise in frustration. I want it finished and it doesn’t want to be finished. I put the first three chapters through ProWritingAid yesterday, and my overall impression was that the writing is better, so there isn’t as much to be corrected as there would have been only one or two drafts back. But… I was still finding details I was unhappy with that required further tweaking. Will this never end? Apparently not.

To make things even worse, while I was reading K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel last night, Casey’s personality and my problems with it intruded. Casey is the primary protagonist, and it’s his actions that direct the novel. I think I’ve developed him fairly well, but all through the various revisions, I’ve felt that there’s something lacking in how he comes across. That lack is weakening the novel, and even though I can see the problem clearly, I haven’t been able to figure out what to do about it. Until last night.

Here’s where I would love to turn the novel over to beta readers because I don’t know if I can trust my own judgment that he’s coming across as a whiner with a bad temper, whose stance changes with every shift in the wind. He’s also very strong when he needs to be, and very caring, but extremely vulnerable because there have been so many losses in his life. He’s conflicted.

But I’m being stubborn about getting this book published as soon as possible, so waiting for beta readers (if I can even find more than the one faithful one who’s been so much help to me) is simply out. I don’t have the patience, or the time.

I recently broke each chapter into its scenes so I could have a better overview. That may stand me in good stead now because I can go through the named scenes and track Casey’s arc, which is something I should have done earlier. “Arc” is another concept I’m just now getting around to in thinking about structure.

I now have a better handle on how to present Casey’s conflicts, even if the details are still  fuzzy. But that’s the pantser aspect of my work. There’s always a lot that doesn’t come clear until I start digging in. Unfortunately, all this insight means a fair amount of revision. The word count is probably going to go up, which is fine, except that most of my chapters are already quite long (around 4,000 words), and I may have to break up some chapters. That means more editing before I can put the “final draft” (the second or third final draft) through PWA.

I think I’m going to go make a batch of cookies now and eat myself sick. (I’m a frustration binge eater.)

A final note. This is something I’ve thought about off and on. Much of the discussion and advice about how long it takes (or should take) to write a novel, is based on stories that depend heavily on plot. Such stories can be outlined, with approximate word counts and deadlines set before the first word is written. Stories that depend almost entirely on characterization can not be written that way. I was learning about Casey long before I wrote the novel last November during NaNoWriMo. So, he’s been on my mind somewhere between six months and a year. And that still hasn’t been enough time to know him as well as I need to. Think about someone you thought you knew very well after years of being friends, and then they surprise you with an aspect of their character they’d never shown before. You may have to rethink your whole relationship, and your view of who that person really is. That’s Casey.

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7 thoughts on “Character –> Revisions –> Frustration

  1. My sympathies – I’m a frustration binge eater who shouldn’t eat carbs and will lose two more days of writing if she does. Which adds to the frustration (note: I very rarely give in).

    There are plenty of ways to make a horrible character (like Scarlett O’Hara, the little minx) still be sympathetic. Look for those, pop a short bit into each scene where you think Casey is too, well, Casey. Blake Snyder wrote three screenwriting books on the principle: Save the Cat (the hero stops to save the cat; a villain kicks the cat). Do a quick review of ‘villains’ in your writing books – and do the opposite.

    Your character is probably solid by now – it might not take that much work.

    In any case (unintentional), best of luck. It’s always easier once you’ve identified THE problem, not just that there is A problem.

    1. Casey is actually a good guy, but he wavers too much. Sometimes he’s almost like a little kid throwing a tantrum because he doesn’t get his way, and then when he gets it he doesn’t want it. Yeah! That’s it exactly.

      I don’t need the carbs either, and I won’t bake cookies today. But it was a close thing.

  2. Do you want to send me Expandable? Just tell me what your fears are and I’ll read it with those in mind. I have time at the moment: I can’t move quickly through my problem as it involves a lot of mulling over catalogue cards, and the only work I currently have is with a very elderly, hardly-ever writer, who’s going to take ’til the end of the year to get his vignettes’ variables (cover, photographs, maps, etc.) together. Chuck it to me if you think i can help. I owe you, babe.

    1. Durn it! You don’t owe me a thing, but if you’re really free right now, I’ll toss it to you. Can’t remember what format you prefer. Let me know and I’ll get it set up.

      Just went shopping with my son, and taking my glasses off and on constantly is getting to be a major pain. There’s that nasty mid-distance that just doesn’t want to come into focus. Bifocals soon, I think. If you want to print it and you still have the money from that blasted cover, use it.

  3. I recently tried something that I found VERY helpful as I’m slogging through the middle of my novel without any idea where it’s going. I interviewed some of my characters. That is, I just sat down and wrote questions for them and had them answer, free-form. For example, I said, “Tell me more about xxx.” And then I played the relentless interviewer and followed up with, “And why is that? And how did that happen? And what did you think of that? And then what happened?” I found it extremely useful both for getting to know my characters better and for trying to haul myself out of the plot quicksand I’m currently struggling through.

    So–I offer it as a short-term tactic, though it may not contribute to your feeling of moving toward finishing.

    1. I might try that. I’ve been writing down questions about my main character, but maybe framing them as an interview would be more productive than just waiting for the answers to pop up. I sent the durned thing off to my wonderful beta reader, so I have a few days to interrogate the guy. So much for deadlines.

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