I returned home yesterday from a trip to Vancouver, Canada, one of the most beautiful cities I have visited. It was a good trip with a great friend and a welcomed break from the overbearing heat and humidity here in North Carolina. During the trip I spent a lot of time thinking about how clean and gorgeous the city was and how it would be a wonderful setting for a novel. My writer’s brain was on for three days and I pitched a couple of ideas to my friend, all of which involved mountains and murder. It was fun to play around with the idea of my next novel but of course the guilt set in as I remembered I am still in revisions for the first.
As I started to consider where to begin again on revisions when I was finally home, I started to think about what was holding my story back from being is best second draft. Being in such a beautiful city made me wonder if I had the setting for my novel right. I then started to think about the characters and how they fit into the setting and if they were interesting enough. This line of thinking was unravelling my entire novel and I had to get out of the rabbit hole. Then I remembered my English classes.
Although I was in ‘Advanced Placement (AP)’ English in high school, it was a very simple concept I learned during my middle school years that brought clarity. The 5Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, will be my saving grace while I work to make my novel better. These simple words are used to gather information and explore a topic, theme, or story. These words will be crucial during the revisions of my first draft.
Part of the problem with this draft is that the idea for the novel had multiple iterations before I began writing, and at 25,000 words in I made some major changes. I was very caught up in what was happening and I forgot the elements that will make the book its most interesting. As a consequence, the setting and the characters in the first draft of my novel are flat and underdeveloped. None of them have a true backstory so in the end I have a story with cities and characters that need attention. It is time for me to learn who the characters are, what they know, and what motivates them. I also need to rediscover the cities I place the main character in. I have been to them all and so I need to work from that experience. The goal is to build a relationship between the people and places so my readers are engaged.
Now I know that the long books, insufferable papers, and extensive lectures in AP English were unnecessary. In just a few words my middle school teachers taught me everything I needed to know about writing.