I just finished the first draft of my most recent manuscript FACING THE MUSIC, so I thought I’d take a leaf out of the lovely Savannah Foley’s book and deconstruct the process for the novel. Why? Because I love talking about what I think of my stories and why. If this isn’t your thing, feel free to ignore it.
Original Idea: As is the case with most of my novels, I’m not one hundred percent sure where the idea came from. What I do know is this. When I started getting serious about polishing my last novel THE RECRUITED, I had to cut the first two chapters off the draft. One of those chapters has since been consigned to the mire of unused documents on my computer, and the other, for whatever reason, stuck with me. The chapter that I mentally held onto involved a scene in which my MC was abused by her boyfriend. In that story, he was trying to get information from her (not that that excuses what he does).
When I started considering my next idea, I came back to that deleted chapter and wondered who a character dealing with that kind of abuse on a regular basis might be. Naomi, the MC of THE RECRUITED, kills the boyfriend who abuses her. How would a girl without the same kind of attitude respond? Would she stay because she loved the boy, or because she felt like there was no other choice? How would she deal with a situation from which there wasn’t as easy an escape?
These were the questions I considered while I was writing Leslie’s character. However, I’d also planned on there being a male MC. (What can I say, I like books with multiple POVs.) When I first started, I figured that Evan would be a foil to Leslie, the friend she turned to without any experience of his own to ground him in her situation. It wasn’t until I started plotting that I realized I was dead wrong.
As for the music side of the plot? For once, a simple answer. I’m a music nut, and I thought that music (even if it took a few different forms) would be a good hobby for the two of them to share. Little known fact: I also borrowed the basic premise (talented but stifled female singer, independent but lonely male composer) from the book Phantom of the Opera.
So far (and admittedly, I’ve only done a draft), this was the hardest story I’ve ever started. Before I managed to actually come up with a draft I didn’t hate, I rewrote the beginning four times. The first, or it might have been the second beginning, involved Leslie going to stay with her aunt and cousin in another state to get away from the abuse. Not nearly as good a story, right?
Once I actually got underway, the writing process was kind of hard to dig into at first. I had troubles getting the voices in place for both Leslie and Evan, as well as problems turning off editor’s brain and just going back to writing. I also had a deep ceded concern that the beginning I’d selected was still the wrong one.
This story was a lot quieter than THE RECRUITED, and I enjoyed the chance to really dig deep into the intricacies of the friendship between Leslie and Evan without a lot of extra plot happening around them. That being said, there were plenty of parts of this story that were difficult for me to write for personal reasons. I don’t like writing violence of any kind, but the domestic type of violence featured in this story was supremely difficult for me to get my head around. There were certain scenes I delayed writing, simply because I really had to get myself into the mentality where I could actually put words on a page.
I started writing the draft I stuck with in mid June, ironically, when I was trying to complete Camp NaNoWriMo for the month with an earlier draft. I spent the rest of June and a large portion of July re outlining the story in its entirety, and by the time August rolled around I’d finished eight chapters of a planned thirty five. Then I dove into the second month of Camp Nano, and added another 51,000 words to the already existing draft. I finished the story right around the end of the first week of September.
It’s a few more chapters than I’m used to writing, but the word count finished about two thousand words above THE RECRUITED. By the time I finish edits on it, it should be right in the sweet spot for a YA contemporary.
The Reflection: In retrospect, this was kind of a difficult book to write, and I definitely second guessed myself a few times. When I started writing parts of Evan’s history, where he tells Leslie the story of how he came to be where he is, I actually went back and started writing the story as it might have happened to him. I still intend to finish that, because I love that part of the story, and I’m already wondering if there’s a way I might work it into the novel.
The biggest fear I have is that I’m going to have to do the same thing I did with THE RECRUITED and cut down the story to one POV because I can’t make the voices distinctive enough. Lucky for me, I do feel like I have learned a lot about voice in the writing of my thesis and the rewriting of THE RECRUITED, so I’m going to do a lot of work making the characters sound like individuals.
That being said, if I end up cutting one of the POVs, I already think I’ll cut Leslie’s. There are two reasons for that. One, Evan was the character whose sole perspective I intended to use for the story, and two, his provides a much more unique look at an otherwise slightly stereotypical abusive relationship tale. Still, I’m hoping I don’t have to cut any one character.
I think there are two reasons why I related to Evan’s character slightly more than Leslie’s. For one thing, I have a huge soft spot for the protagonist of Phantom of the Opera, Phantom, and all the side stories it has inspired. I sympathize with Erik much more than I do with Christine in most cases (which says a lot about my penchant for tormented men). Even though Evan is only loosely based on Erik, I love him for a lot of the same reasons.
Also, the problems that Evan suffers in the story are mostly centered around his parents and whether or not he should help Leslie even though it means putting himself into a situation similar to the one he just escaped. I know a lot of people who have been in situations like Evan, not fully trusting their parents or not feeling close enough to them to confide. And, to a lesser extent, I know people who have been in situations they didn’t know how to handle, where they weren’t sure whether to tell someone or hope a particular problem got dealt with.
Trust versus lack thereof is a major theme in this book, although one I didn’t insert on purpose. It’s an issue everyone deals with, and one I hope to expand upon in later drafts.
What’s Next: I’m currently sitting on this novel for a month or so before I dive into edits. After I make a run through (or several) on my own and get some feedback, then we’ll see where it goes.