As I’ve mentioned, I’m new to writing plot-first. One of the biggest risks, apparently, is feeling disconnected from my characters. I know how my protagonist Henri reacts to the world around him, but not why. He thinks he’s living on borrowed time, outrunning his own death–or at least trying to experience a bit of the world before keeling over. But that’s only one part of who he is.
My writer friend Julia Stoops did me the kindness of reviewing my synopsis last week. She offered some great comments, insights and questions. This is the one that has gotten me spinning:
“So the biggest question I have is, why take the reader on a journey following the main character through this amazing world, only to have him consistently fail in love and life?”
Apparently my work-in-progress, LOST NOTES, is a comic historical novel with tragic undertones. While that’s technically workable, it’s not really my intention to write a tragedy. If Henri accomplishes everything he wants in life, despite his failures, or fails while enriching the lives of the people around him, that might still allow for a happy romp of a story. If he doesn’t accomplish those things, I need to make some plot changes to keep his development more in line with my intentions.
Either way, the plot is in place, and the story world is rich with color and historical detail, but I don’t fully understand Henri’s psychology as he moves through this space I’ve created for him. So, six months into my first draft, I’m going to return to the beginning to sharpen my premise and answer a few important questions. Why am I writing this story? Why should we care about Henri? How, specifically, will he triumph over his own weak constitution? What does he want? When he fails, and loses people he cares about, why does he keep going? It’s not a rewrite, but a rediscovery. I may even use some of the freewrite exercises that launched my previous two character-driven novels.
Has anyone else experienced a watershed moment like this in the midst of a first draft? What did you do? Turn back to rethink or plunge ahead?