Why I’m Working on My First Act…Again

27

January 24, 2014 by Ifeoma Dennis

So maybe I’m a sucker for perfection. Or maybe I just have a big ego that won’t let my WIP win this battle of to-be-crappy-or-not-to-be.

But I’m working on my first act again, thanks to the edits I received from my CP, Yael. My MC turned out not to be interesting. Not because she is weak, but because she doesn’t have any other interesting things going for her. Interesting things like humor, stubbornness, smarts (sorry, Yael, using your comments almost word for word).

 

So I’ve been working from sunrise to midnight on my first act, trying to infuse interesting into my MC’s character. It’s like a fever–an ego fever maybe, but a fever that won’t let me go until I’ve fixed it to my ability. Then I’ll send it to my CPs and flex my writing gloves in preparation for the next round of edits, as we do. 😉

 

But I’d rather have that fever than the fit of insecurity that preceded it. You know, I started thinking it could be that only good teachers could make good writers. And I suck at being a good teacher. I’m that classmate who might know something but would really have a hard time putting my point across to someone (say a non-classmate) that has never known it. I can explain to someone that has an idea of the subject, but I’m totally bad at starting from the scratch.

And that’s how my WIP feels like. It’s fantasy, set in a world that’s in my head, and it’s my job to guide the reader through it and teach them everything. And at the height of that fit, I felt like writing might not be for me after all. But glad I got past that. I’ll just have to keep working until I improve. And even at that.

 

I’ve changed my MC’s character arc, which was from weak to strong and then weak again (not such a clever arc, is it?) into something else. Character-wise, she’s more determined, stronger-hearted and more stubborn from the start.

She still has the short end of the stick since she comes from a weak bloodline, and will have to fight against stronger forces with little weaponry or finance at her disposal. But that’s okay.

Her new character arc (which somehow, is embellished in the theme), could be summarized as “your blood stays true to you, even if you are not true to it”. Which I doubt would make sense to anyone right now because no, it’s not what you’re thinking. But I feel really good about this character arc, simply because I have a feeling it’s not an arc readers would be expecting.

 

Something else I’ve noticed while rewriting is my MC’s strict voice, especially with her thoughts. It did seem to me my writing came out a bit rigid. You know, like how some characters in fantasy novels think.

So I’ve been working on that. Two years back, I played around with a blog series that focused on a twenty-one year old who wanted to find the perfect person to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, it was a countdown sort of series (Eight Days of Valentine) and most of my classmates checked in and followed the series religiously because according to them, it was hilarious…and I knew it really was, because the voice came so easily (probably thanks to my love for Sophie Kinsella at the time :D) Btw, I still love Sophie Kinsella and will always do, all things remaining equal.

I don’t know if I can infuse dry humor into this story like before, since it’s a different genre, a different POV, a different character with a different, more serious want. And the gravity has rubbed off on me. But J.K Rowling handles humor and a serious subject so well.

 

So, keeping my fingers crossed I leave this act with a product that’s closer to what I want it to be. Even if it’s not funny. But hopefully, it would come out more interesting.

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27 thoughts on “Why I’m Working on My First Act…Again

  1. julzwrites says:

    Omg, revisions are the bane of my existence. I’m currently on the fourth rewrite of my WIP (luckily, i’m nearing the end but i may or may not be in a rut at the moment :()
    Something that i was(am) also struggling with was making my MC interesting. She was smart and hoarded information (just how her brain works) but apart from that there was nothing captivating about her. In this current round of rewrites, she’s become a lot more bad-ass and stubborn (even cracks jokes here and there). I have by no means perfected the art of making her interesting and i still have a long way to go but i’m making progress 😀

    Wishing you all the luck in the world, i know you can do this! Also, if you’re ever in need of a Beta reader, i’d be more than happy to help out 😀
    -Julz-

    • Awww I so know what you mean! I had that exact problem, and a CP even told me she honestly didn’t find my MC interesting. But I think we grow into our MCs the more we write (or rewrite) them. So hang in there! It took me about a dozen rewrites to get my MC’s character. I’m not sure she’s interesting yet as no one has read this new draft, but I’m starting to be comfortable with her personality.

      Are you working on Science Fiction or fantasy? Thank you so much for offering to read! I’m not so much a science fiction person, but if you’re writing fantasy, I would love love to return the favor! ❤

      • julzwrites says:

        It’s easy to lose hope in situations where i see another round of revisions on the horizon before even done with this one but at the same time it’s hopeful because maybe, just maybe, next time it’ll be perfect 😀 I’m definitely holding on to hope lol

        My current WIP is a Fantasy story and i probably won’t have it done for another couple(few) months but i’d be so thrilled to have you read it when it’s ready! 😀 I’m personally very excited to Beta for you because the snippets i’ve seen (on your blog and on Twitter) have piqued my interest and made me so curious that i don’t think i’d be able to wait for when it gets published to read it!

        In the meantime, here’s my email address: julzarimahATgmailDOTcom in case you would like any details on what i’m working or you want to tell me more about your story (which i would totally love) 😀

  2. L. Palmer says:

    Main characters, especially in fantasy worlds, are difficult to write because 1. the writer has an idea of the plot, and so conforms the character to the plot – which takes away a lot of personality, and 2. as a writer, we are concentrating on what we are doing, and that concentration sometimes comes out in a flatness of the character.

    What I find helps is seeking my natural voice and rhythm with the story. This can take a few drafts of the first section until I’ve got a good foundation for the rest of the book. I probably re-write the first act far more than the rest of the book. You’ve got to be going in the right direction as you head deeper into the story.

    Sometimes, it also helps to just write a really sparse first draft, without dialogue or detail – more like a synopsis. This will give you a vague outline to follow.

    • Aww, thanks so much for dropping by!

      This is actually my second draft, but I agree with you. Sometimes, you have to rewrite your first act a couple of times before you get the feel for it. This is my fifth complete rewrite of my first act, but I think I’m finally getting a good grip on it.

      And you’re right. Being conscious really affects the voice, so I’ll do my best henceforth not to dwell too much on that.

      Thanks so much for the tips!

  3. Cat York says:

    OoooOOOooo. I love this Valentine’s Day idea! Where is that? Can we read that too? ❤

    You have a great voice, Ifeoma, and it's all going to come together. Sometimes it takes some finagling.

    Teaching and writing are two different things. I never realized how difficult teaching is until I tried it. Putting into words and instructions something you know instinctively … it takes practice, planning, self examination, and experience … because the way you teach something to one person might not work for someone else.

    You are so dedicated to the craft of writing. The most important thing is to not give up. We're constantly learning. If we're perfect at everything the first time through (or even the 10th or 20th) then there's no point in continuing. Making things better = what we do. ❤ ❤ ❤

    • Thanks so much, Cat! I always remember what you told me, “dreams can get you through anything”. So I hold on to them.

      I deleted the Eight Days of Valentine entries afterward. I felt my writing was a bit immature, and I didn’t want to leave them on my blog. But it was fun while it lasted!!

      I can see how teaching and writing are different, but also, there are some similarities, I think. The way you tell a story might resonate with one person and might not cut it with another person. But hopefully, one day we can get to that middle ground that would resonate with majority of readers.

      I can’t wait to read your new WIP. 🙂

      Lots and lots of love!!

  4. […] I talked about it here. […]

  5. Injecting a story with humor can be tough, for sure. I find when I try too hard to be funny, it falls flat. A better tactic is to try to be playful and let humor arise from that sense of play.

    • That’s so true! I remind myself I’m not trying to be funny but to be less “compressed”, if that makes sense. Because when writing serious stories, it’s easy to get carried away by the bleakness of the MC’s situation.

  6. bstaveley says:

    I wouldn’t worry. I don’t think it’s at all true that only good teachers can be good writers. There are all sorts of brilliant folks (writers and otherwise) with no ability to articulate their own process. Stick with it. Might take a few years, but it gets better with every revision…

    • “Stick with it”.

      That’s forever etched on my brain now. Thank you so much for that! It’s hard when authors I admire their writing (like you! J.K Rowling, etc) actually have some teaching experience somewhere in their CV. Makes me feel like it might be part of a secret formula…

      • bstaveley says:

        I really don’t think it is. Explaining and Storytelling aren’t really the same thing, and although sometimes you do get the chance to tell stories in class (especially history class), it’s possible to be a great teacher with no storytelling ability whatsoever. I think the converse is also true, and I’d even go so far as to say that a teacher’s didactic style could get in the way of good storytelling. Just my two cents — I’d be curious to hear what others think.

        On the subject of sticking with it, have you seen Kameron Hurley’s post? Really great piece, I think: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/01/22/on-persistence-and-the-long-con-of-being-a-successful-writer/

        • I just felt a good teacher would know how to put across something they know in a way another person would understand, you know, without giving out too much or too little at a time, especially with the worldbuilding. But your point makes a great deal of sense, especially when it comes to suspense. Only a good storyteller can control the tension/pacing. So maybe good writers are both?

          Thanks a great deal for the link! This line stuck out especially– “Persistence, I realized, was not the end goal. It was the actual game.”
          *drinks to that*

  7. “I started thinking it could be that only good teachers could make good writers.”
    Good teaching and good writing don’t necessarily go together. Some brilliant teachers have a hard time translating that in-person brilliance onto the written page. And some not-so-inspiring-in-person teachers write brilliantly. A few can do both well; almost all can write well with good coaching. At least that’s been my experience in educational publishing.

    Best wishes on continued inspiration with your character!

    • Wow Marianne, thank you so much for sharing your insight!
      It’s truly inspiring knowing that with practice and learning, we current fumblers would get there one day.

      And thank you! Would need a lot of that. ❤

  8. hesthermay says:

    When I start writing a first draft, I usually know a bit about my characters and what they are like. In the writing process though, I get off track sometimes; so it makes perfect sense to go back and through the story again, making sure your characters are acting consistent to their personality and getting that arc right.
    Have fun! 🙂

    • Thanks!

      That happens to me too, inspite of me being a dedicated plotter. And it is really amazing how characters and their arcs end up influencing the plot in a big way. My overarching theme for the series as a whole still remains the same, but this particular story has turned 45 degrees with the new character arc. I’m happier with it too! 🙂

  9. krystal jane says:

    You can definitely still have humor in it. The timing just has to be right, you know. But I totally know what you mean about personality. I had the same problem with my current MC. I tried so many different versions of her past before I finally did the right thing. I just needed her to have some fire to her. She needed to be someone who wouldn’t back down from hand to hand combat, and the way I had her growing up wasn’t going to get her there. I’ve always liked her, but she was never interesting before.

    • You are really spot-on with what you said about timing. That really helps with the humor.

      Glad you figured out your MC’s character arc too! I tried to make my MC weak too (which could still work for another story but not hers), but I found out making her strong-hearted from the get go was more her thing.
      I’ll definitely write a weak character one day, but hopefully, the kind of character whose weakness provides comic relief. If that makes sense.

  10. Jodi says:

    It is a tricky balancing act to insert humor and interest into our MCs, even for me–which is odd because I’m kind of a jokester in the real world. I think I feel like if my main character is too quirky or too funny, it will somehow take the attention away from the main premise of the story…? I’m not sure. I find myself cheating by giving all the interest and wit to a minor character (i.e. Phee). But that’s never good either, because now your minor is out-shining your main.

    Like I said…tricky.

    • For me, Taz shines through and some conversations she makes with Stryder are funny. Most importantly, I think some of their situations are funny, and humor most times depends on not only what the character says but their situation. And I always have a good laugh reading SPIRALING, like that one time they looped in a bathroom. I howled out loud.

      It’s okay for your minor characters to shine too. 😀

  11. amandashayne says:

    I know what you mean about feeling like you can’t use certain elements (like humor) in your story because of its genre, characters, etc. I am constantly thinking this. I read other authors (like J.K. Rowling) and I know it works, and from a simple common sense perspective I know that we writers can do whatever we want and oftentimes make it work, but then when it comes to my own writing, I freeze and worry I can’t pull off something or can’t even go a certain route. Like you, I’m going to spend a lot of time on the first act of my 2nd draft, to make sure I get the voice, tone, mood, etc. right before I move on. We’ll reach our best story possible eventually! 🙂

    • Yael Itamar says:

      Humor is really hard, especially since there aren’t any specific rules for pulling it off. Or maybe there are, I don’t know. But it always struck me as one of those things that happens by accident. You probably have to develop a feel for it or something.

      J.K. Rowling’s pretty awesome at it, though.

      • You’re really right. The only rule I know of is that some words come out funnier than others, but apart from that, it’s something that happens. And sometimes too, it’s very dependent on the situation, since some situations are inherently funnier than others. For example, a bar/classroom scene might have more leeway for humor than a burial scene.

    • *angel smiley*

      And I know what you mean about freezing. But from your excerpts I’ve read, I don’t think you really need to worry. Your characters have great voices that come out funny sometimes (there’s one excerpt in my head where one of your character leaves his friend stranded and I remember chuckling at a few lines).

      Like Yael said, humor is something that comes naturally and we shouldn’t worry so much about that. At least, you, since you pull it off beautifully. 🙂

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"Dreams can get you through anything."

-Cat York

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