I had a sun-rays-part-the-clouds-to-beam-down-on-me-while-angels-sing-hallalujah writing moment this week. I figured out a solution to a problem with the structure of my novel that had been niggling around in the back of my mind, and which I had been denying was actually a problem. And, as is often the case with a S.R.P.T.C.T.B.D.O.M.W.A.S.H writing moment, once the solution came to me it was so obvious. Obvious as in “I have two eyeballs” obvious, or “the Running Man is a far superior 80s dance to the Roger Rabbit” obvious.
The first part of my book has been worked over roughly 632 times, but it still wasn’t feeling quite right to me. My two main concerns were 1) I was taking too long to get to the inciting incident that launches Part II, and 2) There was not even one iota of the mystery storyline in the two chapters where my main character has her first day at a new school. When these doubts cropped up, I’d just say hush and tell myself things like, “Well, Harry Potter doesn’t find out he’s a wizard until 50 pages into The Sorcerer’s Stone,” or “It makes sense for the mystery storyline not to come up during her first day of school—she’s got a lot of other stuff on her mind.” On the one hand, these things are true, but on the other hand, they’re just excuses to make myself feel better because I didn’t know how to fix the problem. I banged my head against the locker, so to speak, trying to make those first day of school chapters work in Part I, but it just wasn’t happening. Any change I came up with felt forced and like I was trailing more of the same mystery breadcrumbs that had already been laid out. And perhaps most important, no amount of fiddling that I did within those chapters could change the problem of taking too long to get to the inciting incident. So I said screw it and moved on to a different part of the book that was a lot more fun to work on.
And, of course, that is when The Obvious came knocking at my door.
“Why can’t the inciting incident happen before her first day of school?”
“Well, uh,” I stuttered to The Obvious. “Because that’s not how it happens.”
“But why not? Why can’t it be?”
“Because . . . that’s not how I imagined it.”
Ding Ding Ding! That was the key for me there. I imagined it. The whole shebang—the characters and the plotlines and the mystery and the timeline. It’s all stuff I made up. I’ve been working with the ideas for so long that some things start to feel solidified, like that’s the way they have to be. In this case, it was my timeline. But when I really thought about it, there was no reason why the school chapters had to fall where they did. Changing around the timeline solved both of the issues that had been worrying me. Now there is a continuous (hopefully page-turning) build to the climax of Part I, and we get to that point much more quickly because there are two less chapters (actually, three, because I deleted one altogether). There’s also the added bonus of a new layer of tension built into the first day of school scenes, since they now follow the inciting incident instead of precede it.