This post was originally published Nov 22, 2010 and has been edited to remove the spoilers. I remember this post very fondly as the property manager of an apartment building in Herald Square left a comment, which came through as the name of the building. One of the reasons I love the internet!
This weekend, my husband needed to go to Macy’s to buy a winter coat. I went with him, and we brought our 3-yr-old son along.
Part way through the afternoon, my husband took our son to the bathroom and left me sitting in the Starbucks on Macy’s 3rd floor (Macy’s has a Starbucks on nearly every floor, we noticed).
The bathroom was clear on the other side of the floor. I knew they would be gone for at least a few minutes, so I took out my son’s little notebook for scribbling and tore myself a few pages. I remembered what Stephen King wrote about in On Writing: you have to learn to read (and by extension, write) in ‘small sips’. Waiting on lines, sitting in public, in between errands.
I’m into Part III of the book’s edits now, up to Page 121, where I should be as of Friday. On schedule. I spent a lot of time working on the structure of Part III before I sat down to do the 11 pages of edits on Friday. I’m loathe to blow tons of paper and toner printing out large sections, but I was having trouble getting my arms around the story. I decided to write out the 25 scenes of Part III on a legal pad (above) to see what I’ve already written and in what order. I read down the page and thought about the experience the reader would have. Does the action move the story forward? Does the tension build?
All Saturday morning at Macy’s, I was troubled by the structure of Part III. The book is a thriller, with several intersecting mysteries and flashbacks. I thought I might not be revealing things in the best order but I didn’t know how to fix it. When does the reader find things out and when should they? When should I reveal things to the reader but keep the characters in the dark? The plain truth of it was, I couldn’t keep it all straight in my head. Too many things were happening and as the author I knew them all. I realized I was losing touch a little with the experience the reader would have.
So on my son’s scribble notebook, sitting next to a row of garland in the Starbucks at Macy’s, I wrote down every single scene in Part III, the main action in each scene, and then at the end I put these notes to myself as I realized what wasn’t working:
— the jeweler’s identify has to be revealed as late as possible in the story
— the jeweler’s shop can’t contain her name, or it needs to be obscured by some circumstance of history
— the flashbacks need more tension, more things left as cliffhangers
— need to understand the soldiers’ motivations much better, they don’t care about the cause, so what are they getting out this?
— someone in the book needs to have authority on history of the Aryan term… who? what will make the reader believe them? how to make interesting and not read like a textbook?
I have to edit 33 pages at least this week to stay on track to finish this year. I’m going to try and push myself to edit a total of 50.
Ed. Note 2015: Structuring the mystery in the right way for the reader — suspenseful, but not confusing — was by far the hardest thing about writing this novel. I was hard on myself and assumed that it was a function of this being my first novel and that I was still learning the craft of fiction writing, which was of course true. But in 2015 I read an interview Stephen King gave about his recent book, Mr. Mercedes, in which he confessed that mystery stories are brutally difficult. Mr. Mercedes was one of his first that was mystery, not horror. So … I felt excused for my own struggle if Mr. King had experienced the same after so many brilliant novels to his credit.