I’m currently in the midst of writing a story which I had planned on being completed by the end of this month. I don’t feel confident that will happen. This is not an unusual place for me to be, struggling to finish a manuscript. I love writing, but there are moments I really hate it, too.
I sent the first hundred pages of my new story to a trusted friend who reads all of my work. She is honest. There is no blowing smoke anywhere with this woman. If something she reads is shit, she tells me it is shit. I appreciate that about her. She’s a strong reader even though she hates to read, but she knows when a story works and when it doesn’t.
I believe she is the reason I received my latest book contract last September for the story, A Penny on the Tracks, coming out this October. When I was finished with the third draft for A Penny, I had sent the MS to her and she texted me after reading a couple chapters asking what the heck the story was about. “Where is this going?” she had asked. “I’m tired of reading about a day in the life of Lyssa and Abbey.”
It was a bit of a crushing text because by the time I had gotten to multiple drafts of the story, I had almost a year invested into the story. Now, she wasn’t telling me the story was exactly shit. She had thrown in a couple positive texts, too. She liked the writing, but the story lacked any strong direction for the reader.
Before I had given my friend the MS to read, I told her very little about the story. A Penny on the Tracks is a coming-of-age story about two young girls who find a secret hiding place in a field, near a set of train tracks, that they refer to as their “Hideout.” They spend a summer at this secret places and take on fun adventures. They meet a high school boy there and forge a friendship with him.
The first half of the story centered around showing the girls’ daily activities, allowing the reader to get to know the characters and their friendship. The story was leading up to the deaths of Abbey and the high school boy, Derek, but I had originally written the story to not reveal their deaths until it happens.
After my friend questioned me where the story was headed, basically, what the point of the story was, I knew I had to change something. I went to bed that night a little bummed out because I already had the story written. The plot revolved around showing the path to the deaths (suicides) of these two characters.
Suddenly, I had jumped out of bed knowing exactly what I needed to do. To make the story more interesting, to give the reader the direction the story apparently lacked, I had to reveal the deaths of Abbey and Derek first. It was a two o’clock in the morning revelation that seemed so obvious I couldn’t believe I had written the story any other way.
So a story that had originally began set in 1986 with the girls being 11 years old, now begins with a Prologue set in 1993. The girls are eighteen year old, the age Abbey kills herself. The book opens with the news about Abbey’s death before the reader even knows a thing about her, other than the fact that she kills herself.
Now I have the reader’s attention.
Chapter One opens in 1986, the girls are 11. Now, there is some direction in the “day in the life of Lyssa and Abbey” scenes because the reader is now reading towards something, unlike before.
Telling the reader the fate of not one, but two, characters in the book increased their curiosity and interest in the story by giving them a reason to want to turn the page. To want to read more.
When my friend had expressed her dissatisfaction with my original story only a few chapters in, I had told her to stop reading it. Put it away. That was when I went to bed that night and realized what I needed to do. After I changed the story and sent her the revised version, it had made all the difference. A couple chapters in, she texted me that she couldn’t wait to find out the reason Abbey and Derek both killed themselves and had spent most of the book guessing.
I am certain that had I sent my book to the selected publisher, the way it was originally written, I would not have been offered a contract. No way. Publishers are busy. They wouldn’t have wasted their time reading a story that seemed to be going nowhere.
My friend saved my previous book and now that I have sent her a large portion of my current story, I know am I asking her to save this one, too. I need her to lead me down the right path because I fear I have lost my direction with a story I’ve already spent six months writing.
Hopefully every writer has a friend like her.