More than twenty years ago, I decided to try my hand at writing a romance novel. Based on the content of the Harlequins I’d read (especially one flamingly ridiculous little number called Romance of The Rose) I figured, how hard can it be?
And in truth, if you can write, and tell a story, and format your story to fit within very rigid guidelines and follow the
formula, writing a standard issue romance novel isn’t that hard. I know, because I did it.
The problem was, when I got done with it, I knew it was not the book I wanted to write. The story wasn’t just about these two people finding each other again after all those years. There were other people involved, and a backstory that needed to be told, and plot points that would not fit the standard mold at all. Besides, in those days, romance characters had names like Blaise and Chanterelle. From the start, I chose deliberately plain names for my main characters. Well, that part wouldn’t have gotten my manuscript binned by the romance publishers, but not following the formula definitely would have–and this story rejected the formula with as firm a hand as a Harlequin editor would have.
So I set the manuscript aside for a while, and thought about it, and worked out another storyline that had to be woven in with the original, and brought in some new characters. And started rewriting, till I came to a stopping point for some reason or other. And there the manuscript sat. I’d pull up the files from time to time and look at them. I think I rewrote the first two chapters about five times each, but somehow I never got moving on the rest of the book.
I knew from the get-go that there had to be a second book that would tie up loose ends for some of the secondary characters in the first book. I even knew the name of the second book and the name of the new character I’d bring into the small town I’d created. Yeah, I knew all that, but I didn’t have the story beyond a very vague idea that we’d find out who the father of 10-year-old twins was, and who would complicate their mother’s life. But last November, I decided to get off my literary duff and by golly write that sequel. And I did.
So then I had a finished sequel to an unfinished first book. And when I asked a few people to read my second novel, of course there were references to plot points from the first book that didn’t really make much sense because of course the first book wasn’t to the point of being readable by anyone else, yet.
So, a few weeks ago I dug in my heels and dug out that manuscript. Looked at the dates on the files. They were created in DOS Word, which I had to give up due to Y2K issues (pity, because it’s my all time favorite word processor). None of the file dates were more recent than about 1994. Shame on me. (When I was cleaning up a pile of old floppy disks I found a version of the book from 1990… so yeah, twenty long years.)
So, I imported the whole mess into Word 2003, cleaned it up a bit, and exported it again so I could work on it with Scrivener on the Mac (my new all time favorite word processor). And I started plugging away at it. It was immediately apparent where I’d left off with the rewrite, because after a bunch of reasonably good chapters, all of a sudden I had a whole chapter that didn’t do anything, the subplot and new characters went away, and the main characters reverted to standard-romance mode. Yuck.
I decided to at least go through to the end and tighten up what was there and put it more in line with the new storyline, and that job was finished two days ago. Now, I need to get rid of that nowhere chapter, put in a new one that advances the new plot, and move along from there.
Bits and pieces of the backstory keep impinging on my consciousness from time to time, though. Today, I edited some of the early chapters to bring that all in, in a natural way (if I do say so myself). When I finished that, I was ready to dance on air. Because all of a sudden I realized… I LIKE this book. If I hadn’t written it, I’d read it. What a feeling!
No idea what I will do when it’s all finished. Send it out? Publish it myself? Lots to think about. But I do think it’s a good book, and thank goodness I wrote such a lousy romance novel and gave myself the chance to write something better–given enough time.