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Brittany: It All Starts With the First Line

*parts cross-posted from my personal blog*

Last week I took my How Home Improvement Saved My Marriage manuscript up to the attic and stuck it in a box with other things I don’t want cluttering up my life right now. Lately, I’ve been in a very foul mood toward my novel and my inability to get anywhere with it, and I decided it just wasn’t worthy of my continued devotion anymore.

My novel is flawed. Profoundly and maddeningly flawed. The beginning lacks momentum. It lacks bite. Alex, the narrator, doesn’t sound like anybody I’d want to hang out with for 200 plus pages. Partly that is due to point of entry problems. The beginning of my book was once funny as hell, with snappy dialogue galore, but that was before I realized that while it was highly entertaining writing, the plot was languishing under all that talking. So I cut, and I cut, and I cut some more. And I reached what I thought was the perfect point of entry. But no matter what I did, the book could just not pick up any steam at that point. It went mwah mwah mwaaaaah from the get go. And then there was the counter plot. I’ve never been particularly happy with how much of the novel is taken up by Alex’s job woes. It was one of those cases where I let the book meander into psychotic acid-trip craziness and hoped the reader was game to read absurdist fiction. But still, with all the lunacy going on in the plot, the story just sat there, staring at me, willing me to do something new with it.

When I hauled my gigantic white binder full of rough-draft novel up the attic stairs, dumped it unceremoniously in a Rubbermaid container full of books, and jammed the lid on it, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the action it had in mind. But as I resolutely turned off the attic light, I thought to myself, “This is an appropriate metaphor for how I feel about you. You suck. It was nice while it lasted, but good-bye forever.”

And I had not made it down even two rungs of the attic ladder before I was hearing Alex’s voice (muffled by the Rubbermaid container lid, but clearly Alex, nonetheless) and she said, “You want to put an offer on this house?” I asked my husband Will, who up til now had always seemed like a perfectly rational individual. And suddenly, my whole novel was re-organizing itself in my head. Here was the perfect point of entry. Here was the set up for funny dialogue. Here was a girl I could spend an afternoon with.

“You bitch,” I cursed, as I climbed down into the laundry room. “Where the hell have you been? It might have occurred to you to tell me this nine months ago when I was begging for your help.”

“I just thought of it,” said Alex.

Now she’s absolutely full of suggestions.

“You know what your problem is?” she asked me this weekend while I was cleaning the bathrooms. “You’ve got two different novels spliced together into some kind of weird Franken-fiction. Take out all the stuff about my teaching woes and stick to stories about the house.”

“That’s all fine and good,” I grumbled, “but I don’t have any more stories about the house.”

“Yes, you do,” she said.

“I do?” I asked.

And she proceeded to point out that I watch a bazillion home improvement reality shows on tv, and said, “What if Alex applied to be on one of them so they could afford to make the repairs on their new house?”

At this point, I was sprinting to my office for a notebook.

“The  reality show will pay for all the repairs,” she continued, “but the catch is that they have to do all the work themselves, with no outside help whatsoever, they have no clue what they’re doing, Alex is still messy and laissez faire, Will’s still an obsessive-compulsive neatfreak. and now there’s a film crew following their every move…”

And then the heavens parted, and a choir of angels appeared, singing in triumphant chorus…

I really feel like I’m on to something here — that this is a huge breakthrough for me — and it is going to take my book off in a new, and better, direction. And I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here about patience, and always remaining open to trying new things, and letting energy flow and ebb naturally, but it all gets so spiritual and metaphysical that it’s not easily described.

But the universe has worked her magic, and I’m here and I’m writing again.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. brava, brittany! love the reality show angle.

    s wants us to be a reality show, or our family life turned into a sitcom. complete with canned laughter over our dinnertable conversations.

    September 29, 2009
  2. Kristine #

    I had the same problem in one of my earlier manuscripts. I was trying to write a book with dual protagonists. Didn’t work at all! The whole dang thing fell apart in the end because I had no idea whose story it was. (That manuscript is locked away, never to be seen again.)

    I’m glad you’re writing again. Sometimes inspiration finally comes at the point when you’ve hit the biggest wall. Let your characters tell you what they want. They’ll lead you in the right direction.

    Good luck and keep us posted!

    September 29, 2009
  3. Brittany, I thought you might get a chuckle of how your post was snatched and splogged at this site–notice the hilarious synonym auto-edit:

    My favorite line is this:
    “You harpy,” I cursed, as I climbed down into the laundry accommodation. Here was a part I could fork out an afternoon with.

    September 30, 2009
  4. LOL

    It just goes to show that word choice is everything. 😛

    September 30, 2009
  5. i loved this when i read it on your blog, brittany. perfect. funny to hear the inner dialogue.

    i’ve had a very busy two weeks. been missing you guys!

    October 1, 2009

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