Construction Zone: Finding the “Target”

When I started writing Her Private Chef, it started out as a contemporary romance. It was supposed to be sweet, angsty (I do love emotional conflict in novels), hot and intense, culminating in a well-deserved happily ever after.

That’s not what I wrote.

Somewhere around 20,000 words, I panicked. Convinced I was going to run out of story, I decided I needed more girth to the plot. A sub-plot, maybe. Or even two. My simple story suddenly turned into a stalker suspense with a sub-plot forcing two secondary characters together who really didn’t “fit” together. It wasn’t at all what I’d envisioned when I first started writing, but anything to get a first draft done, right?

Wrong.

I spent a month just trying to figure out where to start with revisions. I thought it was my own lack of knowledge (and part of it was), and signed up for a course (I don’t regret that one bit, by the way). I took my ms through the first part of the course, fighting an uphill battle once I finally started to rewrite. The problem was, I’d written the wrong story in the first place. That’s why revising it has been so difficult – it wasn’t the story I’d originally planned or started writing. It wasn’t even close to the story I wanted. I’d missed the target, due to my mid-draft “freak-out”, and then made it worse trying to revise the mutant draft.

I can’t decide if this is a “pantsing vs. plotting” issue (I didn’t plot this story the first time), or all due to my little freak-out session. It’s probably a little of both. The more I think about the story I *want* this to be in the rewrite, the more I think I could have avoided the “mutations” if I’d just planned it out better, and known more about my characters before I started writing. Then again, I think lately my writing has been suffering from all the craft-advice I’ve been reading/implementing (too much focus on technicalities, not enough on “feel” and description). Sometimes it’s better to just stop thinking so hard about writing, and just write.

In any case, I know what my target is now. I’m re-plotting, and working out things like back story before I start writing again. I’m going back to my original premise, taking out the suspense elements, and aiming for straight, hot, contemporary romance – which is what I wanted it to be in the first place. I’m excited, because this story hasn’t felt “right” in months, and now that I’ve regrouped, it’s flowing easily again.

I hope that with a little more careful brainstorming and character-driven plotting, I can keep from doing this too often in the future. Learning how to finish drafts by “just writing” no matter what came out was a good way to build confidence in getting to “The End”, but now that I’m past that, I want to focus on writing well the first time out, rather than just writing to get words down. Just another stage of my writing “journey”.

I’m assuming I’m not the only one who’s “missed the target” with a draft before – when was the last time you found yourself writing the “wrong” story? How did you regroup (or did you just let it go, and start over with a new idea)?

6 comments on “Construction Zone: Finding the “Target”

  1. Cynthia Schuerr

    I have experienced this with my own WIP. When I set it aside for a few weeks, as they say you should do, before reading it over. When I came back to it, it was all wrong. It had to do with POV. I originally wanted it to be 1st person, but found that it worked better in third.

    I know it feels like such a waste of good writing time, but in fact, I realized how much I had learned.

    Good luck, Jamie and have a great day!

  2. Heidi Sutherlin

    I haven’t done this yet, actually the fear of doing this has caused me to come to a complete halt. I’m at the opposite end of the scale as I’ve plotted myself out and love where I’m going, but have reached a point where a diversion is called for. Not a large one, but for some reason it’s making me super cautious to the point of standing still. I think your commitment to the story is awesome. It’s a lot of work to go back and rework your story to that extent. I’m impressed.

  3. Carol

    Oh, yeah. I’ve certainly done this! Only with me it happened with a story that I had plotted. It looked good in the outline, but the draft came up a few thousand words short. I’ll let you know how I fixed it when I actually do. 🙂

  4. Jamie DeBree

    Thanks Cynthia. And thank goodness I’ve never been tempted to switch POV before. I can’t imagine all the work that would be to revise. 😉

    Good luck with yours as well… 🙂

  5. Jamie DeBree

    Here’s where I think you have to go back to the “just write” adage. If you’re frozen to the point where you can’t write…then it’s not doing you any good to stand still. My suggestion to anyone in this particular situation (for what it’s worth) is to hide the outline or whatever planning you’ve done, and just start writing, NaNo style. Get the draft out and done, so you can move past the fear of getting it wrong. *Then* you can go back to planning, with better confidence, IMO.

    Good luck, either way! 🙂

  6. Jamie DeBree

    I’m always coming up short on word count…but I think it’s because I draft fast, and eschew description (even the barest form). From the snippets of your writing I’ve read, that’s certainly not the case. Your description is *wonderful*. 😉

    I’ll be interested to hear how you deal with this…good luck!