Listen to Your Story
By Drea Lee
Last year I wrote a 70,000 word novel that I fell in love with. I loved the high concept, the world, and most of all, the characters. When I wrote the last sentence mid-December, I felt triumphant.
Armed with feedback from trusted critique partners, I knew what I had to do to make my revision sing: get closer the characters. I let the manuscript rest, and when I returned to it I was excited to revise, certain it would go smoothly.
Boy was I wrong.
I wrestled with that manuscript all the way through summer. After a particularly unproductive writing session, I shut my laptop, turned to my husband, and told him I was done. When the words came out of my mouth, there was no relief, only a profound sense of sadness and defeat. I was further away from my characters than ever.
My husband (thankfully) suggested I give it one more go. He asked if there was anything I could change, a new perspective I could take or something I hadn’t tried yet. At first I argued that I’d tried everything, but quickly realized I was ignoring the giant elephant in the room. As it waved its trunk frantically at me, I knew I had to face my fears.
You see, my comfort zone was writing in past tense third point of view. Exclusively. With all my projects. All. Of. Them. But through the first draft of this story, I’d slipped into first person present accidently (and more than once). Each time I did, I would quickly backtrack with a resounding NOPE. But stuck at this crossroad, I knew I couldn’t NOPE this one away anymore.
Expecting the worst, I opened a new document, put on my playlist, and did something I didn’t want to do: I rewrote the opening chapter in first person present.
I could actually hear my MC’s voice — not in my head — in his head.
But then a magical thing happened. The first sentence came easily, followed by another and another. I wrote straight through until the short opening chapter was done. I pulled my headphones out of my ears and read it aloud.
Then I cried. I loved it.
But I didn’t love it just because of the POV change. Yes, I needed to use this POV for this particular story (because the story itself really demanded it — I know that now). But the reason I loved the new chapter was because I had (finally) listened to my characters. I could actually hear my MC’s voice — not in my head — in his head. While I wrote that chapter, I was him. This was the connection to my characters I’d been searching for!
I realized I had been neglecting to follow my story’s lead. I’d been so adamant about what I wanted my story to be that I’d ignored the signs of what it needed to be. Throughout the first draft, my story had been leaving me clues. I’d been slipping into the point of view this story demanded, but my stubbornness and fear had overridden my instincts, leaving me frustrated and ready to give up.
While my story still has a long way to go, I’m now determined to listen to it when it nudges me in a certain direction. It’s possible this will sometimes lead me astray. But my instincts are telling me that most of the time, it will lead me exactly where I didn’t know I needed to go.
About the Author:
Drea is the Community Ed. Program Coordinator for Wordcrafters in Eugene as well as a youth educator and young adult novel writer. She studied literature and writing at California State University, San Marcos and educational technology at Azusa Pacific University. Prior to moving to Eugene, she worked for eight years with the nonprofit Christian Youth Theater teaching acting and directing productions for students ages 8-18. She’s taught middle school and high school English and drama, both in public and private schools. When she’s not writing, she can be found dabbling in community theater, fangirling over Shakespeare, or hanging out with her husband and their three crazy chihuahuas. Connect with her on Twitter @shksprandcoffee or in the Eugene Kidlit Group.