Start Over.

10 August 2011

In and around other things, I’ve been working on Heather. But I’ve also consciously been avoiding her because something isn’t right about the story. I can’t tell what, exactly, but I know where: Page 125. Yup. That’s when I noticed things had taken a subtle but very bad turn.

I had wrestled my plot into submission, and felt good about starting. The words came fast enough, and I enjoyed seeing the page count go higher and higher. I felt an immense sense of accomplishment. And then, on page 125, I was detailing a surfing contest that Harvey (Heather’s step-son) was competing in. It was at that point I realized I wasn’t telling the story I wanted to tell.

So I ignored it, hoping it was just a passing mood. But each time I went back to the manuscript, it felt like not fun work to keep writing. You know, it didn’t feel like writing, it felt like typing.

You know, it felt like Michael Douglas’s character in The Wonder Boys when he sits down to work on his novel (that’s approaching 2,000 pages), and he starts going into the horse’s family tree.

This happens sometimes. It’s frustrating, for sure, but I’m glad I figured it out at page 125, instead of page 345.

I’ve started over. I’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water in terms of outlines and things already written. And I’ve started anew. Fresh. And in first person – which is very, very rare. But I don’t think the whole thing will be in first person. Who knows? I might change my mind again.

True to form, I had to write out a brief outline of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there. The plot is much less convoluted now. And, in another strange turn of events, it feels much less ‘story boarded’ than my previous novels.

Anyhow, I’ll include an excerpt from both versions, so you can judge for yourselves. Keep in mind they’re both ROUGH drafts, thus there are errors, repetitions, and the usual detritus that one gets in a first draft.

This is the first, first draft (that got to 125 pages):

Heather Poole lies on the bed as the unstoppable news feed on BBC World News relentlessly repeats itself. She wishes she had a calendar so she could put an X over each day that passes. So far, she has been sequestered in this second-rate hotel for three weeks, four days and nearly 13 hours.
It’s not at all how she imagined things going. When she arrived at the beginning of things, she’d expected people to be tripping over themselves to ensure her happiness, but that wasn’t the case at all. She was forced to stand in a double line with the others, and was barked at by the AD, a horrible, balding, shell of a man if ever there was one. He wouldn’t tell us anything, not one thing, wouldn’t even take us to the house until we’d signed away our lives on the dotted line. So much paper work!
Non-disclosure agreements, confidentiality contracts, general contracts, permission for my image to be used in any promotional material whatsoever without prior written approval. And no way to control what I look like either. I mean, they could so easily decide to cut the tape so all the shots of me make me look like a bag lady, or worse. They could easily have got me in the morning, without my makeup on, looking haggard from lack of sleep because Susan snored, and I won’t be able to do anything about it. Forget signing a deal with the devil, signing this deal was worse.
Her feet brush against the beige carpeting and she wonders how long it might take to generate enough static electricity to see a spark or two in the dark. She relegates that bit of excitement to later on in the day, thus giving herself something to look forward to and something to fill the post-dinner blues.
She stares at the ceiling light and wonders how often it gets dusted. Once a week? After each guest checks out? She wants to latch on to this lie of thinking as it promises to be lengthly, but her heart’s not in it. Who really cares about the cleanliness of the inside of a hotel light fixture?
What she really wants to think about, but has done everything in her power to avoid thinking about, is how two disparate things, polar opposites really, like having one’s dreams come true and having one’s dreams crushed completely, often produce similar results. Both offer an ending, one positive and the other less so, obviously, but she finds it curious that two such different things arrive at the same place.

And this is the second first draft, now in first person:

When I auditioned for a spot on a new reality show, I expected to get it, but I didn’t expect to spend the majority of the filming days sharing a cell with a total stranger who snores as much as she passes wind. I really did not.
I’m not technically in jail, not a real jail with bars and shivs and guards, but I am being told what to do and when to do it. I’m really not meant to say anything, to anyone, honestly; I’ve signed a confidentiality clause and it looks serious: £2 million if I say anything about anything to anyone. But the language is so scary, so severe because they want you, well, me really, to know they’re serious. Here’s the thing, I’m not in jail, like I said, I’m in a hotel, somewhere in the ass end of London. And I’m only being held here half against my will, you understand. See, the thing is, I was chosen to be on a new reality TV show. I can’t tell you the name or anything, but suffice to say, when it’s broadcast, you’ll know it. It’s new, but I’ll be in the opening sequence. I’m not sure where or how exactly because they haven’t let us, the contestants, actually see any of the footage, but it’s reality TV, it’s a formula. A+B = C.
So, yeah, I was chosen to be on this show, which is actually the fulfilment of pretty much all my dreams, ever, in life, but I got kicked off. That’s right, I am not the winner, and to keep word from getting out, they keep all the contestants holed up, away from all media, in a hotel until the filming’s finished. That way, when people are sent home, it’s en masse and nobody can tell for sure who was the last one off. It makes perfect sense really, but it doesn’t change the fact that I am not the winner and now spend all day every day languishing in a lacklustre hotel.
Here’s what I don’t quite understand: why aren’t we being put up in a nicer hotel? How much money are the production company and the broadcaster making off this? Millions I’d assume, the slot I was told it’s being aired in is post-watershed on a Thursday night. Prime time. So it seems reasonable to have expected a higher standard of accommodations. My sheets are not changed every day. I’m lucky if the main comes every second day. She certainly doesn’t work weekends. I ran out of towels twice and had to ring the front desk to have more sent up. And what did the simpering idiot on the other end of the phone tell me? He said that I would have to come down and get the towels myself. It’s crazy.