Last year, as a way of giving myself a meaningful deadline and my writing broader exposure, I signed a contract to participate in a multi-author boxed set. In theory, the expectations around my story were quite doable: a half year in which to write and edit a 20,000-word contemporary romance novella. I even had the nugget of an intriguing idea and began writing without delay.
For a time, progress was excellent.
Famous last words, right? Because of course, with three months left on the calendar, the challenges began.
First, with 30,000 words composed, it was obvious I was on my way to writing a full-length novel.
This wasn’t a deal-breaker, however. I knew where the story was headed (look at me, becoming a grown-up outliner and such!) and I was still in love with the idea. It felt like a fresh take on a hot trend (office romance), and it was exciting to think of writing a marketable book I also adored.
The bigger issue, and the one I needed to solve immediately, was that my characters were becoming emotionally removed. They did stuff, but they had stopped explaining the why of their actions.
The solution was one I have employed to good result in the past: write in first-person, then convert the passages to third. (This approach can provide added benefit by deepening the third-person point of view.)*
And lo, when I tried it, the heavens did part and the pages did sing. I suddenly had character motivation, emotionality, and internal consistency.
I also had the passages in first-person present tense—a problem because, try as I might, I couldn’t get them to match the preceding 30,000 words, written in third-person past.
With the deadline approaching, I could see four options:
- let the story dictate its form and rewrite the first half of the book to match the middle (and hopefully the end). At risk: the potential alienation of an entire swath of readers who won’t read first-person, never mind first-person present tense.
- convert it to past tense but keep it in first, thereby annoying a smaller group of readers.
- convert the new material to third-person past tense, and resign myself to losing a certain amount of interiority.
- miss the deadline and find an editor who could help me keep the best qualities of first-person while preserving the theoretical marketability of third.
What was an author to do, especially an author still building her audience? An author who didn’t want to sacrifice quality, and who hates missing deadlines?
Honestly, the conundrum made my head hurt. This was the first time as an indie writer that I urgently longed for an agent or publisher’s advice.