This seems simple, but it’s not. It took one month to write the first draft of my novel, but three long years to revise. And during those years, I hired a professional editor to brainstorm the development of the plot, characters, and flow of the narrative. I had several readers critique the story, some were published and well-established authors themselves.
Also during that time, I attended more seminars than my brain can even recall, receiving feedback on my story, prompting me to rewrite and revise again and again. Sometimes I wanted to give up.
I joined a writing contest. I signed up for webinars to weed my poetic garden of words. I attended a series of “critique and chats” where editors gave face-to-face feedback and manuscript edits.
I hired more editors to line edit and proofread. And at last, I thought the book was complete. I followed all of the rules. I did everything just so. I was done!
But I was not done.
One afternoon last November, I disembarked from a family cruise and checked my emails. Author and editor, Jill Davis, from Harper Collins sent a critique of my novel from an online webinar I had attended months before.
She had a lot of kind things to say, like she “enjoyed the world and circumstances” I created and so on. But I had a major problem. My book was lacking clarity because my main protagonist needed purpose. He was “wandering around and bumping into various people … and the book loses focus.”
Her editor letter and feedback was long and detailed. She said this situation reminded her of something Steven Roxburgh said about her own writing. I had what he called, “a pathological need to complicate.” In other words, right when my character was driven toward his purpose, I’d veer off and go in a completely different direction.
She went on to use other analogies, giving examples of how to figure out moment to moment what my MC really wanted in the “big picture.”
And I got it.
I spent the entire month thinking about it. Just thinking. Finally, I realized that my MC did have a purpose. It was there all along, but never defined or clearly stated in the beginning chapters. Now, I had the tools to veer my MC through the plot, his purpose driving his thoughts, actions and feelings throughout until the rising action and denouement.
The novel began to breathe. It read and felt like a real book. It was alive.
And now for the first time I can see and identify a character’s purpose in everything I write and even read. My eyes have been opened.