Update On My Novel: JOHANNESBURG

posted in: Blog 4

So, by now I doubt people who were reading this blog six years ago are still reading. But here’s the thing. Six years ago I started writing a really big, long novel that I was very, very enthusiastic about. 200 000 words enthusiastic.

It was unconventional in structure, it was long and it was, well, let’s just say, not mainstream. All of which are cool things for a novel IF it’s also bloody fucking amazing too!

Mind Map of Novel plots and research
Mind Map of Novel plots and research

Over the years I have had bits and pieces of feedback on it… mainly from people whose opinions I trust, but who are actually friends. It was good feedback. In some cases, pretty pointed. (thanks Marc Pienaar). But at the end of the day, it didn’t ever really come close to answering the big question:
Is this good enough to publish?
I am not just talking about getting a deal here, I mean, is it good enough technically for me to risk whatever reputation I have by putting it out there (be that self-publishing, getting an agent, shopping for a publisher).

I knew there were problems with the text… mostly related to its voice, its character’s voices and also to how it all hangs together, but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to pin-point or fix these things myself.

In the end I approached someone I knew, I respected and who I could trust to be not only honest about the manuscript, but to do so from a publishing and authorial perspective. Further, to be able to pin-point exactly what it is that needs work.

So, enter Andrew Miller. Andrew recently won the Dinaae Debut Fiction award for his debut novel, Dubsteps. He also happens to be one half of the company Ge’ko that published my debt solo collection of short fiction. Andrew has run a publishing company, he works with writers all the time, he is a professional editor and he knows me.

So, the bottom line is: the amount of work I will need to do to render that manuscript ship-shape will entail an amount of work that really doesn’t make it worthwhile as anything other than a labour of love. Well, that’s ok, BUT I am not sure I feel the same way, or to the same extent, about a lot of what I reflect on and explore in that novel.

Chapter plan
Some thoughts on Part 1…

Here are the issues:
Structurally, the plot just can’t support the weight of the text. There’s too much text, not enough clear action that is going somewhere a reader can identify. Problem here is that I am not even sure I know where I was going with a lot of this… this is BIG food for thought. How do I turn my ideas into stories with PLOT? i.e. an end point, a resolution. In theory I know how to do this. With this book? Ja, not so sure. It’s almost as if I don’t want to… that’s how loose it is in places.

Style wise I am WAY too flowery… more adverbs than at a PR convention really. Now that it’s been pointed out, I see it in everything I write. I don’t use adjectives much. I use a LOT of adverbs. I am trying to change that now.

As a result there’s not really enough direct action. I paint in the corners too much leaving too little for the reader to infer, create their own ideas and world around. It’s over-written. To clean it up I would have to go in with a team of surgeons and 10 cubic tonnes of bleach…. I just do not feel up to that!

So, where does that leave me?
Well, oddly enough I am relieved and happy. Andrew’s analysis is spot on and puts into words a lot of the fears that I had about the book. I don’t know if I will ever fix it or not. And that’s OK. I know that, before I think about fixing it, or starting anything new, I need to learn some new chops re plot, character development and a style of writing that is more suited to long form text. In poetry, short stories and blog articles, lots of adverbs and general adornment is fine. In novels it is just exhausting.

So, I am doing some reading, doing some exercises, playing with some ideas, doing some development. But mostly I am thinking about whether I even really want to write fiction. Not because of these feedback but just in general. I am loving my blog series. These are books that are growing on these pages. Short term, I will almost certainly stick to non-fiction.

For those of you who have ben along for the ride, I hope you enjoyed it. This was not the ending I had in mind. I am looking at turning some of the extracts into short stories. We’ll see.  Thanks for all the encouraging words and the feedback. I hope you don’t feel like you wasted your time. This has been an enormous long learning curve. Your input was part of what has helped me learn.

4 Responses

  1. Mark de Wet

    Congratulations on writing your first manuscript. What you did, millions have stopped short or just did not have it in them. Why not treat it as your ‘masters course on writing’? You have learnt an incredible amount so do not waste your newly found knowledge. Treat it as a brain fitness training course. It would be a travesty if you did not stand up again and write another! This time, with all your knowledge, you will definitely write better, especially thanks to all those that have given you input so far. Do not let yourself and all your supporters down. I will send you an address of an incredible coach who helps you on your way and does correspondence courses. Good luck. I will be holding thumbs (maybe for a long time!!)for you.
    Mark de Wet
    PS. I came second to Andrew in the Dinaane Competition. I was lucky!
    Failure is just a stepping stone for success! Go for it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. David Chislett

    Thanks for those kind words Mark. You are of course correct. This is not actualyl my first complete manuscript… the first one was worse than this! hahaha! It was two books in one.

    But ja, I’m going to spend some time re-grouping and then we take it from there.

  3. Michael

    Well Done, David, just keep going bru.
    Is the novel fact or fiction? -maybe a central concept? maybe a story about 2,3, 4 or more Joburg individuals and their different takes on the city, society, culture (done before I know), however, we both know the people YOU know are not “Normal” 🙂
    Bounce some ideas with me – no strings attached (as per our unwritten agreement).

  4. David Chislett

    Novel means fiction… and no way! I am not going back for a while! *grin* But thanks for your kind offer! I really need to figure out the failure of this version’s plot mechanics before I go back and try again.

Leave a Reply