In July I pitched my book at the PNWA* writers conference to three editors and three literary agents. Although they liked the story, four of the six gave me
the same advice about a major plot point. One said, “When this happens, I can’t see the character reacting this way.” Another said, “Her reaction is not believable. I can’t buy it.” A third said, “You can’t have this happening, because readers expect a bigger reaction.” He suggested several plausible alternatives, one of which struck a chord with me. Right off the bat, I knew he was right, but I was scared my writing skills couldn’t handle it.
Truth is, I didn’t want to take the advice because I knew such a pivotal change would involve tons of thinking and tons of rewriting. One thing you learn by experience is that if you’re not careful during revision, you can lose your original vision for the story. I didn’t want to risk that.
So while I jotted the feedback down in my little notebook, I spent my revision time on other fixes and managed to whittle down my To Fix list from over 50 items to 31.
But their feedback must have taken root and grown, because this past week, I could no longer ignore what I suddenly realized I had to do—make the big plot change. Brainstorming over the repercussions of the change produced a page of scenes that would be affected. I didn’t want to touch anything until I had analyzed the logic.
Several years ago I heard a Hollywood screenwriter describe the logic of a story in three words, “because of this.”
An event takes place.
Because of this, something happens (e.g. the protagonist does A.)
Because of this, something else happens (e.g. the antagonist does B.)
Because of this, the protagonist does C.
Because of this, the antagonist does D.
Two weeks ago I took the plunge to follow the agent’s advice and changed an incident in the beginning of the book. Then I started fixing everything affected “because of” the change. It was like jumping into a river and finding myself in over my head. So far, I’ve swum upstream through twenty-one chapters, scraped myself on rocky dialogue, and plunged over unexpected currents of motivation.
Let’s hope I make it to the other side of the river before I forget which way I was headed.
*Pacific Northwest Writers Association