When does a writer go back to square one in a story?

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SOMETIMES AN AUTHOR has to make hard decisions about their work. We like to think every word and phrase we instill in a story absolutely must be there, or the story won’t work. What a piece of fiction that is. Sometimes we have to turn our back on our story and go back to square one.

In 2009, the seed of an idea formed in my brain for a mystery. When we moved into our house in 1978, our bedroom had a room air conditioner in one of the windows. We kept that there until we were able to install a central heat and air unit. The air flow had an erratic hum and when it filled our room at night, it made me think that people were in the room, talking. Of course, they weren’t.

Patricia La Vigne
Patricia La Vigne

One night, listening to the rhythm of the cooling air, I began to think about a husband murdering his unfaithful wife in that room. The whole incident was recorded in the air conditioner. When I told my daughter, she came up with “Cool Murder.” I liked that and it became the title. Now I just needed a story to go with the title.

Since the germ of that idea, I have worked on and off over the years on that book. First, I typed the whole first draft. Then I began the revision process and kept adding to the story. My critique group would dissect the chapters as I presented them, but even then, dissatisfaction with a real lack of plot—in fact, it was burgeoning into too many plots—was very discouraging. I filed each chapter in a separate folder to be worked on—later.

Last evening, I decided to go back to square one with it. I have a program called Writers Blocks 4, so I opened it, and just wrote each chapter number and a one sentence description of what the chapter is about, pasting them into individual blocks. This gives me a great overview of where the story begins, grows, and ends. Oh yes, I also removed two sections that had absolutely nothing to do with the original plot. They will work in the sequel.

So even though the decision to cut way back on pages took some self-convincing that this was the better thing, I’m happy now and ready to move forward—rather have my characters move the story forward for me.

Patricia La Vigne is the author of Wind-Free.

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