The Isis Knot experience: a Retrospective
At this point, I'm working on Chapter 16, I've whacked out about 35 000 words, and we're maybe... halfway through in terms of words and about a third of the way through in terms of plot points? Which seems to me like a good point to examine the experience. Also, a bunch of the basic situation is about to change, Stuff Happens. People not in the Isis Knot writing group might find the process interesting, too.
However. If you do want to keep your feedback entirely uncontaminated, you might want to choose not to read this. From here, SPOILERIFIC up to Ch 15, but not about where the story is going.
As an exercise to get me actually writing, it's sort of worked. I have not, even faintly, stuck to my original schedule. In my defence, Fuck of a Year.
One of the unplanned things I'm loving is that one of my readers is about ten chapters behind everyone else, from coming in much later, and this has turned out to be incredibly handy. F'r'instance, Isaac has asked about Lynne's suicide note being in an envelope. When I wrote the scene, I saw it in my head, it was just a folded piece of paper. Months later, detached from that, I can actually ask myself if it might not be better in an envelope, if that would emphasise what Laura does when she reads it. Previously, I might have been too wedded to what I originally envisioned to accept that. Also, Isaac's feedback is coming from quite a different place from other people's. So actually, I'd quite like it if he DIDN'T read this, just in case.
Am I getting any consistent reading from my reading group? Am I fuck. When I asked "At what point did you work out what had happened 'off-screen' between these two chapters?" I got a lovely bunch of specific answers, and they were all, every single one of them, different. I love you guys. Not so helpful with the "do I need to make this more/less obvious?" but still actually helpful. I should note that I know what happens in this story almost the whole way to the end, so nobody's comments can influence plot points, it's more a matter of what gets emphasised, cut, developed, and how.
I also love it that some people have clearly got attached to particular characters, and they're not ones I expected. I adore Laura. At least one of my readers hates her fucking guts. People appear to want to slap my fallible narrator a whole lot less than I had expected.
My absolute favourite, though, is when someone says "I want to know what happens next". It's a suspense novel more than anything else. If you don't care what happens, I really have fucked up. (Well, or, it's just not your cup of tea. That's going to happen, without my writing necessarily being Bad.)
Things I have found surprisingly difficult. I'd like it to be funnier. It was to start with. But it is actually quite difficult to lighten something that, so far, has involved two suicides and a rape.
There ARE things I'd really like to know that I can't ask, because asking will change the answer. I was telling Karl last night, "I'd really like to know what they think happened [REDACTED], because it becomes pivotal later on, and there should be some suspicion but no certainty. I'm betting [REDACTED] has totally worked it out though, and probably even knows where [REDACTED]." *sigh*
I have concerns about pacing. The first three years or so of the story are, of neccesity, ones where lots of stuff happens, but increasingly I'm skipping over blocks of time, and that increases further into the story. I'm worried that makes it seem jumpy, the switches between describing something with actual dialogue and detail, and then having Hera just tell what's happened over a few months.
I worry that I am the only person in the universe who gives a flying fuck whether Laura and Peter ever sleep together. And I want people to care. Srsly, I've made the central relationship* in my book a sexual relationship between two people, neither of whom is the narrator, who aren't fucking. WTF was I thinking?
When one of my readers says something like, "This off-the-cuff comment here, that's a character point, right, this is really significant?" and they're right, I do a little dance in my chair. Yay. These people, they talk a LOT. Not perhaps as much as your average Oscar Wilde character, but there's a lot of people sitting around talking, and they should be revealing themselves as much as what they're talking about.
The feedback that comes from quite a different place, that suggests a different reading or that something should be radically different, is harder to deal with, but I really like the challenge. There's also been a couple of "this is an unfamiliar term, or not immediately clear, if you just put this bit first it's much clearer" which is also excellent.
I have not managed to clearly deliniate two members of my ensemble cast, Darren and Natasha. And I'm beginning to wonder if I really should. I would actually cut the character of Darren if I didn't need him to do something later on that none of the others can. But if they're naturally secondary, maybe they should just stay that way.
I get a little frustrated because my narrator is not my most verbally-dextrous character. Initially I tried to sort of talk her down, too far from own voice, and I've sorted that, it's just not necessary for her to come across a a muppet because most of her friends are more articulate than she is. That probably means I need to do some tone-ironing in the initial couple of chapters where I'm trying too hard to make her sound "down-country".
Hmm. This was supposed to clarify my thought processes. It kind of hasn't. But. I am really enjoying the process. I do hope you guys are a little as well. Right now I'm on a bit of a roll with The Isis Knot, which makes my brain all kind of breathless and racy.
Readers, do feel free to use this as an opportunity to make general comments in the comments, or by email if you don't want to influence other people. Also, anyone reading this who isn't in the reading group and wants to join, I think having someone else start from the beginning again about now would be handy. Or possibly send me into a never-ending feedback loop ensuring the writing process is eternal. Have at.
*Okay, yeah, it's NOT the central relationship. A photo of a pony for the first person to tell me what is.