Today was my first day writing in a long while. I spent the last two weeks on a mission trip with my church to the Dominican Republic, and the whole time, I was itching to get back to working on the novel. Coincidentally, the trip gave me some firsthand insight into Vodou (which Haitian immigrants bring across the border) and helped me understand better how to create a Vodou-inspired magic system in my story that is nevertheless culturally sensitive.
Because I finished my zero draft right before leaving for the trip, the return gave me a chance to start from a clean slate with a new draft. My goal for the next two weeks is to read the entirety of my previous draft, and use it to create a new-and-improved outline for draft one-point-five. My hope is to use that outline to write my next draft, which I want to finish by end of September (2.5 months). This is all part of my kaizen approach to writing, where each successive pass-through further sharpens and refines the story until it is coherent and tightly paced.
One challenge I encountered today involves making a difficult decision about my story’s structure. Let me explain:
The current draft is divided into three acts (with act two being the longest, and cut in the middle by a midpoint moment). Going more granular, the plot goes like this from start-to-finish: the characters gather together into a monster-hunting crew, they encounter a side-plot obstacle at a nearby port which they escape from, then go and find a famed monster hunter, who agrees to join them in exchange for helping him capture a side-plot monster. During the hunt, one of the characters is grievously poisoned, forcing the crew to seek medical attention in a nearby settlement that also happens to be the main character’s hometown. Here, the main character and her romantic interest go from being enemies to lovers, and then set off to capture the monster. In a dramatic midpoint moment, they fail to capture the monster and one of the crew is killed. A secret betrayal by the romantic interest is discover and the crew splits apart. But shenanigans happen and they are eventually driven together in a final showdown against the monster, as well as other nefarious forces that want to capture it for their own purposes.
As I’m creating my new outline, I’ve noticed several glaring weaknesses. The most obvious one is that the time spent in the hometown settlement is far too long and really slows down the plot before we get to the dramatic monster-battle in the midpoint. The more contemplative tone of this scene feels more appropriate following a major failure (i.e. the crew member dying). And the romantic catharsis doesn’t feel earned unless the couple first experiences shared trauma that draws them together.
With that said, my tentative revision involves moving a large portion of the hometown drama to after the midpoint showdown. That ways, there’s a bit more down-time between two big setpiece battles. I’m pretty sure I want them to still go to the hometown in the first act of the book, as a way of setting up the main character’s backstory. However, I’d like that to be a shorter sequence. In this iteration, the injury that forces them to go to the hometown also gets moved to after the midpoint (I think…) which means that some stuff in the beginning needs to change as well.
A very rough outline of the new plot would be as follows: crew gathers for the monster-hunt, they run into an obstacle that forces them to stop at the nearby port where they are detained but manage to escape. A new sequence gets added here where they try to catch the monster on their own and fail, necessitating seeking the help of the famed hunter. A shortened fight with the sideplot monster ensues, and the hunter directs them to the sponsors of the monster-bounty: the main character’s hometown. After settling payment in the hometown and delving into questions of why the hometown wanted the monster dead (ooooh, intrigue!), the crew departs to fight the monster, and fail. The midpoint still involves a crew member dying.
The second half of the story begins as they return to the hometown settlement, seeking healing for another injured crewmember. As she recovers, the main character and the romantic interest grow closer through grief, as well as the heroic actions of the romantic interest, who shows himself to be a changed man. BUT soon after they hook up, the romantic interest’s betrayal is revealed, leading to broken trust and the splitting of the party. The crew’s stories diverge here for a bit as each characters seeks out their own personal goal, but eventually converge again when they get a tipoff as to where the monster is, and have to race to kill it before other before beat them to the catch.
There it is. Pretty sure this will change between now and the end of next week. But for the time being, it will suffice.