This novel was one of those ones that just came to me. The main character sat on my shoulder and told me his story – and I knew who he was and what he wanted from life.
The problem was, he told me his story in verse.
This wasn’t actually a problem for me, but it was for my publisher. Apparently, verse novels don’t sell.
More important than the publisher’s comment was the feedback from my teenage son. My eldest reads just about anything, but he told me he wouldn’t read a verse novel and neither would any of the boys he knew.
Street Racer was a book that I WANTED teenage boys especially to read. This story was really important to me so I had to try and rework it in prose.
I’m now on the fifth draft and it’s better – but still not working. In the transition from verse to prose I’ve had to add a lot more detail and here’s what’s happened:
- I’ve ended up with character ‘devices’ that don’t ring true.
- I’ve ended up with too much plot detail that takes the focus away from my main character.
- The setting needs to be more clearly established.
- Some of the character reactions aren’t authentic.
I read my latest draft over and over, and had it workshopped by a number of writer friends, but none of us picked these things up. Of course we’re not trained editors, but it made me wonder why.
Another author friend, Sandy Fussell and I were talking about this and I think she’s right. She says that workshoppers and the author can get distracted by beautiful writing…and I think it’s true.
If something sounds good when you read it, it can be hard to recognise the fact that it’s not actually relevant to the story or doesn’t move it along…and shouldn’t be there.
After thinking about what my editor had said and my discussions with Sandy, I realised exactly what the problem was with my story. In the transition from verse to prose, I LOST my character’s voice – and to some extent, my character.
So hard as it is, this means discarding my 65,000 word current draft and starting again. There are lots of parts I can use. I think the plot is sound and I think that most of the other characters in the story are working well. There are some action scenes that I like that will hopefully just need a ‘tweek’ and I don’t think the dialogue needs a whole lot of work. So these are the good bits that I can use in the next draft.
But for the rest of it, I’m going right back to basics. I’ve started by doing another interview with my main character and trying to find his voice again.
I’ve asked him all sorts of questions about
- where he lives
- what his relationships with his family and friends are
- what makes him happy or sad
- how he spends a typical day
- how he sees himself
- how others see him
- the best thing that could happen to him would be
- the worst thing that could happen to him would be
- his biggest problem
- how he’s going to solve it
- things/people/situations that are stopping him from getting what he wants
Fortunately, despite the fact that he’s a teenage boy, he has had plenty to say. He has let me inside his head again… and although he’s not quite sitting on my shoulder yet, he’s getting closer.
I’ve also realised there are too many issues in the current draft so I’m taking out one of the main characters to simplify the plot and strengthen the themes that will stay in the manuscript.
And I’m starting my next draft of Street Racer from a different point – from somewhere further into the action.
Have to go now. Ric is calling me. He’s impatient for me to tell his story – and get it right this time.