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Patch of Dirt: The Genesis of a Novel

Part 3: The Writing Process

Did I ever get to 70,000 words? I didn’t. After converting the 90 page screenplay into a word document and formatting it, I ended up with 97 pages (14,400 words). I still had 56,000 words to write.

I remember someone once told me that in a novel, sentences become paragraphs and paragraphs become a page or pages. The task ahead seemed immense. The longest manuscript I’d ever written was about 45,000 words of nonfiction. Even a collection of my best short stories just made it to 150 pages (42,000 words). Seventy thousand words? To me it seemed like a million. I envied the writers who turned out books of eighty to one hundred thousand words with ease.

I knew I had a solid linear template, but no backstories, something that was hard to show in a script. I made the decision to put in a lot of flashbacks for the main characters: Joe, Anna, Rita, and Frank to see what it looked like.

I dug into my resource piles and searched my archives and came up with three unfinshed stories, numerous pages from the bad first novel, and several dozen pages of handwritten scenes.

After thirteen drafts I stalled out at 68,000 words. I just couldn’t see where I could add any more to the story. When the manuscript was finally accepted by a small press I had a few beers to celebrate. The celebration didn’t last very long. In October of 2014 I received a copy of the edited manuscript and was given until the middle of February 2015 to address the comments. There were redlines on every page and far too many comment boxes. I was in shock for a couple of days, but knew what I had to do. After three exhausting drafts the novel was down to 64,000 words and I’d made my deadline with three days to spare.

Now that I’ve lived and breathed my first novel from its birth to publication, I understand what I need to do with my next one—no flashbacks, watch the POV shifts, and make sure there were no unresolved elements. The novel I am currently writing is devoid of long flashbacks and each chapter is told from a different character, which solves the POV issue. The unresolved elements I’m still working on. Will I ever be able to reach the 70,000 word length with my current manuscript? I don’t know. I’m not going to worry about it. The new novel will be as long as it is.

The Author Review Board on Patch of Dirt full manuscript reading

ü Author has a very good story. I liked Joe and Anna’s relationship and split, how he moved on and slept with women for the sake of it, (perhaps using them as he was hurting and beyond caring). I liked the strained relationship he had with Rita, and the conflict she bought to the story, her past and the relationship with her husband. The dark aspects of working women, and the intrigue of what Joe’s mother may have left him.

ü (I didn’t feel as if the mystery of the mother, and Frank’s connection to her and what she left Joe were resolved though.)

ü We felt the action parts of the draft I felt were very well written, and there is a lot of conflict in this story. We enjoyed the elements of the ending, but felt some parts were substantially unresolved.

ü We had issues with was the excessive use of flashbacks. There were a couple of examples where the author takes us back to a memory, then takes us back to another memory, case in point as in reading the second generation flashbacks, which would then return to the original flashback and then the present time, and while the story was interesting and engaging, it did get very confusing, especially during the longer flashback chapters.

ü We are under the impression that it should be limited to one point of view per chapter, whereas the author does hop to a second character and back again in some chapters, and sometimes within sections within the chapters. I know this could be construed as omniscient, but it is mostly in a limited point of view, so stands out when the pov changes.

ü Grammar and sentence structure form a large part of comments, especially the lack of the comma.

ü There is a vast amount of eff words in this story.

ü We feel to improve the writing to publishing standard, that more emotive writing is required. At points (like the miscarriage scene – we this to be found quite crude and not very realistic), there is no emotion in which to engage with the reader, but we are told further along that she has been crying (she wasn’t), and that the experience would stay with the woman concerned for life. There are other scenes too, we all felt could be more touching and emotive, but the emotions were stated and not shown.

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