Shifting Emphasis

When you are writing a draft, you may become uneasy about the lack of tension the plot events are generating. For example, you thought at the outset that, based on personal experience, a drama between a college student and her drunk father would produce solid combustion. Maybe the father swings by a few times a week to see if she’ll buy him a few drinks. So she drinks with him with the goal of eventually saving dad. 

You set off on that path for 100 pages. Lots of scenes of dad and roommates. Then you decide to read all of the chapters so far—and find that you have merely a variation of the same adolescent rebellion you’ve read or seen a million times.

You decide that can’t be the main plot. It is relegated to a subplot. Instead, you pick another leading foil, a boyfriend who is too charming and slashing. You start writing scenes of mutual interest at a frat party and other venues, and you feel a nice tension brewing. That wolf is no good for her. Yet you still have those father scenes that you wrote before. Does all of that good material have to be thrown out? 

Thinking in such absolute terms is a mistake. A novel is about as far from all or nothing as life gets. Your first step should be: leave those scenes alone for now. Instead think in terms of competition. Those 50 pages of daughter-dad scenes have to be balanced with the new girl-boy scenes. As the latter proliferate, you’ll be able to assess how frequently the dad scenes should appear. Maybe they are inserted every fourth chapter, so the reader doesn’t forget him. Once you reach page 150, you will be better able to make astute judgments.

One element to watch for is how much background material was previous given to dad and daughter. How much do you have for the boyfriend? If the daughter is the protagonist, maybe the back stories should be rewritten so that she is highlighted more. Dad’s stuff is trimmed, and Mom stuff and Sis stuff, etc., are added, in order to better round out your hero’s past. 

More to the point, you need to recognize that your pole stars have shifted. If the central drama is the hero being sucked in by the guy, who are the people telling her that he’s no good? If that’s primarily the mother, she should included in more background stories. She might also be added to the already written dad-daughter scenes. In other words, the characters engaging in the present-day scenes become part of the rebalancing. If only half of those 50 dad pages end up remaining, you should regard them as the best of those pages you wrote.

“The idol of today pushes the hero of yesterday out of our recollection; and will, in turn, be supplanted by his successor of tomorrow.” —Washington Irving

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.