For the last twelve months I've been avidly editing and preparing my new novel The Abyssal Plain for submission. I'm now in the beginning of those first submissions and initial contacts. There's just been one problem: an irritating, exasperating, and very worrisome question I've had about one of the manuscript's plot points. Midway in the story, one of my female characters suddenly becomes antagonistic toward one of the male characters. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out why, but it seemed the natural way for the narrative to go, so I let it ride.
That said, I didn't really like the way I left this thing dangling. I couldn't understand why my character became mean, then meaner, then almost unbearable in her hostility toward this other character. I tried to blame it on her moodiness, but that just seemed so unfair to her as well as the poor male character who had to bear the brunt of her anger. Oh, well, I thought. No one will notice (fingers crossed). Keep calm and submit the manuscript anyway. An answer will come. Strangely enough, it did!
This morning I woke up with the answer so loud and clear it made me not only laugh in sheer relief, but sent me running to my office to write down what is basically a small paragraph of insight and explanation that clarifies everything. How, I kept asking myself as I scribbled away, could I not see what the conflict was? After all, it was right there in the manuscript waiting to be seized and expanded upon.
In other words, I'd already done the groundwork, I was just too caught up in other manuscript concerns to see or appreciate it. Thank goodness for my subconscious. Thank goodness for sleep. Because all I had to do was be present, agree to work on the manuscript no matter what, and believe an answer would appear, which it did--in glowing (and logical) technicolor. Having this answer appear at this exact moment has changed my entire attitude toward both the manuscript and submitting it. Let's just call it "increased confidence." Whew.
A few of the things I've learned from this experience are:
- Whenever you're stuck on a plot-glitch or other irritating problem, just keep working past whatever it is. Don't stop and don't give up. Keep moving forward!
- Learn to be comfortable with mystery. If the answer doesn't appear right away, or even a few months later--trust that it will, somehow, somewhere. You may have to wait for some outside help, such as a critique partner or an editor asking, "What does this mean?" Or, "Why is this event happening?" But that could be the perfect time to receive your best and most true answer.
- Don't be afraid of the extra work weaving your answer into the manuscript may entail. In my case it's just going to take a new paragraph or two, and then some additional dialogue lines and tags. But it also means changing my pagination, printing out new manuscript copy, fresh proofreading, etc. And that's okay--this new info helps my story to make sense and will encourage a reader to keep reading without having to stop and figure out what's going on. (And then forget all about reading my story while they pick up something more coherent to read.)
Tip of the Day: "Sleeping on a problem" really does work! I might not have been thoroughly aware of how much I wanted an answer to my manuscript question, but it must have been in my psyche somewhere, ready to appear.
One good tip I'm reminded of is to write down any question you might have about any life situation, creative or otherwise, and put it under your pillow. Then forget all about it. People who've tried this tell me they wake up with the answer as vividly as I did today. How about you? Any tips on the subject to share? Let me know! Happy dreaming/problem-solving.