Ya know what? Irony’s a cold-hearted asshole.
Who would have thought there would come a time I’d be forced to take my own advice about reverse engineering?
I know you folks are laughing right now. Go on, yuck it up. I can take it.
Yeah Mr. hotshot smarty pants, welcome back to the real world.
So, since I want to be honest with you folks (Thank you Shannon Ashley) I may as well tell you what I’m talking about and how it happened.
This year I was finishing up my last novel of a series I’ve been working on for almost ten years. Quite frankly I was ready for the story to be done. What made things worse was I kept concentrating on a twinkling flash of light on the horizon — another series I wanted to write.
Admittedly I was suffering from a bit of attention disorder. I wanted to get my current body of work finished and move to greener pastures.
So I slapped the shit together and turned it over to my hard core group of critiques to read. I expected, as they had on the other three novels, they would laud my effort with praise and tell me what a great story it was.
Yeah, that’s what I expected.
It sure as hell wasn’t what I got.
They beat the ever loving shit out of me. So much so they asked me what story I was writing.
Really? You can’t tell what the book’s about? You’re kidding right?
They wanted to know what the hell the first five chapters had to do with the last three books. Who the hell were these new characters and what did they have to do with the story or the previous characters?
They asked questions like, “What kind of bullshit have you decided to write these days?”
I received comments to the tune of, “this story sucks so bad I’m not sure I even want to read it.”
Oh, these were some of the nicer comments believe me.
As far as I was concerned, I had one thing going for me on this last novel and that was the ending. One thing I do when I start a new project is take the Franklin Covey approach of beginning with the end in mind. I’ve done it for each book I’ve written and the approach has yet to fail me.
So at least I had an ending. To hear my critiques tell it, it was all I had.
After recovering from the total ass whupping I stared at the manuscript and wondered how in the hell I was going to get this thing out of the ditch and on its merry way again.
Queue the music, and hit me with a spot light as I suddenly have my light bulb moment.
Duh, stupid. Try taking your own advice. Reverse engineer the damned thing.
So I shook my head wearily, put the damned story in reverse and started pouring over every paragraph, every line, every single freaking word, searching for holes in the story which didn’t support the ending.
They were right. The critiques were so totally right.
My book was leaking like a sieve. There were so many holes, wide gaping ones mind you, in my story I thought I was going to have a major rewrite on my hands. I teared up a bit (a lot actually) wondering how in the hell I could have plot gaps so large a walleye pike could swim through.
I blame that damned sparkly thing on the horizon!
After three days of feeling sorry for myself I began the reverse engineering repair work. I read the ending and went backward asking myself what had to happen to the story or characters to justify the ending. Again I read the ending and searched each chapter asking myself if the chain of events from one chapter led to the next and did they all support the end. I read the ending, and read the ending and read the ending until I knew it by heart.
I should have known it by heart anyway. After all, I wrote the damned thing.
As I reverse engineered, I happened upon a tertiary character I’d introduced late in the story and then it hit me. This was one character I’d only given honorable mention. But with a little coaxing the character could be the key to tying everything together. The more I studied how this character played his part the more I believed he could help justify the sequence of events at the end.
So I gave the character more back story and I continued to write him into each chapter. Sometimes he insisted he be allowed to remain in the background. Then there were times he demanded to be in the forefront of the action. One chapter at a time we marched toward the ending, in essence rewriting the story until it sustained what I believed to be a hell of an ending.
A month later me and the character were done. The story was finished. I gave it to my critiques and waited.
And then one of them announced they weren’t so sure they wanted to finish the story.
My, fucking, heart, sank.
But I had to ask why and ask I did.
They told me the reason they were hesitant to read the last two chapters was because the story, the wonderful story about characters they’d fallen in love with, was going to end. They told me they just didn’t know if they were strong enough to say goodbye.
I’ll take that as their way of telling me how good they thought the story was.
In my own defense (really don’t have one do I?) I’ve not previously experienced a situation which required me to throw things in reverse to this extent. But that being said, when my own story got stuck up to the axle in plot holes I swallowed what was left of my pride and took my own advice.
One thing I know for sure after this episode.
It’s like I’ve always said. Advice is like an asshole. Everybody’s got one and most of them stink.
However, advice that’s been tested and proven to work isn’t advice. It’s a tool. A tool you can use to make things work for you and a tool I used to make my story better.
If you need the tool try using it.
If not then maybe you haven’t met your own version of irony yet.
Did I tell you irony’s a cold-hearted asshole?
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