How many times have I thought: “This is it! This novel is finally done!” The answer? Too many.
First novels are definitely a learning experience. Months ago I thought my first manuscript, A Bargain of Fear and Desire was complete. I’d poured my heart and soul into it, written over 80k words, and my story finally had a ‘the end’. How funny it seems looking back now and realizing that was nowhere near the end.
I scrubbed and edited that first version many times over, improving grammar, flow, characterization, etc. Once again I thought it was done. I entered it in contests, and even queried it. Some of those queries turned into partials, a surprisingly large percentage if I’m being totally honest. Those initial query letters and that version of my MS were not as strong as they could have been. Don’t get me wrong, at the time I thought they were good enough, but looking back I can see that they weren’t. And while some of those partials are still outstanding, I don’t have much hope for them.
Why? Well, feedback from some very helpful agents and my amazing CP group helped me see the flaws in what I thought was my final version of that MS. The opening was too slow, and likely too weird. The driving goal of the plot changed dramatically about halfway through, and not in the best of ways. And some of the characters and scenes were not evoking the right emotions.
In short, the story did not live up to its potential and it took a long time for me to see that and figure out how to fix it.
The building blocks of a great story were there, but the order was wrong and some key elements were missing. So I broke my story apart – literally. Each scene got a line on an excel sheet as I broke apart my novel and decided how I could piece it back together in a way that improved the overall flow, characterization, and plot. Some of those lines made their way into my new revision, some did not, and several new ones were added as well. The key changes came from asking a simple question: “What if my MC took charge instead?” Yep, you heard me, AGENCY. My MC needed more agency. She’s a take-charge kind of girl and for too much of the novel, she wasn’t. Now she does. And now the story is much more interesting and dynamic because she doesn’t wait for things to happen, she makes them happen, and not always for the better.
My manuscript is once again complete, accompanied by a new query letter and synopsis which are both so much stronger as well. I cannot wait to get back out there and start querying this novel again. Will this be the version of my novel that snags an agent or editor? Possibly, but who knows. And even if they do love it, I’m sure there will be more changes (even if they are small ones) in this manuscript’s future.