Last week, I was battling (and losing) jet lag, the requisite wound for international summer travel. What saved me was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. In sheets damp with sweat -we came back to a broken air conditioner – I turned pages until the wee hours of the morning. My perspiration could have been attributed to the plot which was full of twists and turns.
What resonated with me, however, more than the dramatic peaks and valleys of the thriller itself, was the structure. A husband and wife, each telling their version of their love story gone wrong, in alternating chapters.
In 2006 I set out to write a book about the decay of a relationship, with alternating voices and chapters, of a boyfriend/girlfriend. The editor I engaged to work on this – my very first project – told me the structure wouldn’t work. I don’t remember the exact words but I do know that project is now in the 15 iteration and has a singular protagonist.
I’m not angry, honest I’m not. Only puzzled. Should I have stuck with my original idea? Could I have made those voices – characters who showed up during a writing workshop in the summer of 2006 – do my will, even if the editor didn’t believe in them?
I was reminded of this nagging feeling I had given up something when I read One Day by David Nicholls for much the same reason as Gone Girl. Boy and girl. Story of meeting, unmeeting, told in the past, then future, then present.
I don’t know if I didn’t have the confidence to tell that type of story. Or if it is better in the hands of experienced writers like Nicholls and Flynn, both of whose books went on to be bestsellers with movie adaptations (Flynn’s is forth coming).
I do know that over 15 books later, edited, fiction and non-fiction, I won’t make the same mistake again. If I have an idea, I will stick to it and give my characters a chance to make their debut in the world.
I have learned a tremendous amount working and reworking that manuscript into the soon to be released book now know as An Unlikely Goddess. I’ve stopped counting the number of revisions; we are somewhere around version 20 and I spent a few hours on Saturday tending to over 200 comments. When the book comes out it will be the culmination of nearly two years in self publishing and over ten years in writing, rewriting, and creating on my journey to becoming a full time writer.
What about you? Have you been given good or bad writing advice?