My plan had been to set aside my darker, angstier stories for a while and work on a book known only as HAPPY GAY MAGICAL NOVEL, but it turned out that my brain hasn’t been in a position to create much lately, so trying to write a first draft seemed a bit futile. I couldn’t come up with a plot — trying to fix the holes in an existing one was difficult enough.
Besides, my country is falling apart and I’m not even sure we have a government anymore, so I’m finding it a wee bit difficult to write anything optimistic. Not to mention the issues with setting anything in the real world when I have no idea what’s going on — how can I set the scene when it’s changing day by day? I mean, tea, rain, and the BBC will probably continue to exist, but is a book really set in Britain if nobody complains about the government? How can I do that when we don’t really have one?
Then one of my betas sent back the second draft of Butterfly of Night with comments that drew my attention to a few plot problems, and I read it through again and figured out which parts needed work, and I decided I would use July’s Camp NaNoWriMo to write a third draft.
I’d been a bit too optimistic about the second draft, I think. I was hoping that would be almost query-ready with only a few minor changes but, although I don’t think I’ll end up writing nine drafts like I’ve done in the past, querying a second draft might be just a little too ambitious.
My third draft is mainly a stylistic edit, but there are two major subplots that need rewriting, and in order to fix one of them, I’ll have to bring a certain character into the book a lot earlier, which is going to have a significant impact. I realised that my main problem is the same one I’ve struggled with in previous books: there isn’t a clear enough sense of who the antagonist actually is.
Maybe it makes sense that the protagonist wouldn’t be sure, because we don’t always know why things are going wrong for us, but as a writer I should have a strong sense of who is the main oppositional force, and I didn’t. I rarely do, which may say something about how I construct plot and understand books, but I think I struggled here because my protagonist is such an anti-hero.
Not only is she mostly unlikeable and objectively evil (she kills people for a living), Isabel’s also her own worst enemy a lot of the time, and her behaviour is self-destructive. But without an external force to give some structure to this, the whole “own worst enemy” thing is nebulous at best. Antagonists are kind of essential to story structure, and I always leave them out in early drafts.
I did the same thing with The Knight Shift and there, it was a while before one of my betas pointed out. The others hadn’t been too bothered, although they noticed the improvement when I tackled the problem: they had been more focused on characters than plot. With Butterfly of Night, none of my betas have actually pointed this out as the issue, but in questioning why certain things happened and the alliances of various characters, they made me realise that the motivations were unclear BECAUSE the antagonist was unclear.
I’ve joked that everybody in this book is one of the ‘bad guys’ and the reader just has to pick a side anyway. I guess to a certain extent that’s still true, but even where I’m not thinking in terms of heroes and villains, I need to think about protagonists and antagonists.
And of course, that will be a matter of perception. Isabel might not realise who is for or against her until some way through the book. But if I know, throughout the novel, it should be easier to keep the tension high and the pacing steady. And maybe some of those plotholes will sort themselves out.
Yeah… that might be asking too much. Still. I’ve made a solid start to the month with around 3.5k so far; with a goal of 75k I could afford to build up more of a buffer ahead of inevitable slow days, but I woke up this morning with a stomach bug and found myself too busy throwing up to write much, so I’m counting this as a success anyway.
I’ll keep you updated on my progress, and in the meantime, are any of you doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month? Tell me about your projects and how they’re going so far! :)