The Undiscovered Country


“The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn
No traveller returns”

-William Shakespeare-

I won’t go into a treatise of what I think the above quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet means. I was thinking of my current glacial pace of revision for Pecan Hill. There is one place in which all writers find themselves at some point in their creative process. It’s that place which is entirely theirs and that no one can do anything about other than themselves. At least I think that is how things go. I find myself in that place at the moment.

I’m in the Undiscovered Country sometime after it has been created but before it has been thoroughly explored and a certain degree of order been put in place.

The first draft has been completed and the foundation for the novel has really been put in place. I need to move from the foundation to the rest of the structure but I’ve always found the move from only the foundation to adding the rest to be a particularly frustrating stage. There are obviously things which are missing from the story; scenes which need to be added or scenes which I’ve put into the novel which really don’t belong there at all. It’s up to me to decide which scenes are missing and which need to be removed and there is no one else who will be able to sit down and tell him definitively what needs to be done. I can give the manuscript to some alpha readers (although the stage where it’s in at the moment means that this is really giving me nightmares) and they would be able to tell me their overall impressions about the work and what they feel is missing. But the decision and the knowledge of what needs to be there for the story to work according to how I have imagined it is all up to me.

The fact that the first draft has been completed means that I’ve fenced off the area I’m working in. A dragon can’t suddenly drop into the story without a great deal of work on my part to break down the fences. You see it feels as though the first draft has given me some limitations. I need to think of what would make sense and what would improve the story and elevate it from the pile of excrement it is at the moment. It will require slaughtering some darlings and maybe spawning some new ones.

The revision has already seen me having to put that first little darling on the altar and disembowel it already. I put the first page through a writing forum and the common consensus was that even though the first line was an absolute ripper (man, I loved it) it didn’t connect with the following scene without a hell of a lot of back story which would need to be added for the transition to be made through to the rest of the scene. Adding that much back story would mean a cold info dump right off the bat. I think I rewrote that page three or four times trying to keep the line and the exposition to a minimum but it couldn’t be done. I know I’ll never be able to use that line in any future work.

The score is then:

Geoff 1
Darlings 0

But that’s exactly what I’m trying to say here. Everything is up to me and as much advice as I receive the decision rests with me.

I’m in an undiscovered country and I have to plot my way through to the end.

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4 thoughts on “The Undiscovered Country

  1. Remind me if this story was written via outline or “pants” style? If the former, I would go back to your outline to see if the core story still resonates and then see if the first draft echoes that resonance. If the latter, you can always try and outline retroactively and see if you can manage the skeleton of the story underneath the flesh. Doctors do this all the time with x-ray, MRI, etc. Sometimes the underlying structure is flawed and needs attention before the proper shape can be achieved.

    Food for thought…

  2. Hey Mark

    It was sort of both. I outlined heavily to the point where I had a detailed scene by scene and wrote according to that, but at a point what was happening on the page veered off from the outline and it became “pants”. I will no doubt be doing a retro-outline with a schedule of scenes etc at a later point.

    I’m just trying to read through the work as a whole at the moment to find out what’s missing.

    1. Good luck with the re-read. I find re-reading my work both shocking and amazing often on the same page. “How could I write this drivel?” is then followed by “How could I write such a sweet line?”

      Did the outlining and scene by scene help while writing the first draft or hinder?

      1. At the moment I’m underwhelmed by my writing but I suppose that what editing is for – to get the writing to the required level.

        Funnily enough, it did both. In the beginning it helped a hell of a lot because I didn’t have to think what was coming next I only had to write. It started to hinder and become a bit of a pain after the story had taken a turn of its own while I was writing. After a while it felt as though I was trying to put the square block in the round hole and I had to leave the outline and scene by scene behind.

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