If It’s Not Working, Stop Doing It

I’m admitting defeat.  I cannot get Nita into four acts as per my usual plan.  I have diagrammed and sliced and diced and it’s not working.  As Einstein supposedly said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  I am not getting different results.  So the rest of this post is me brainstorming how to do this differently.  This is serious business; there is graph paper involved.  

So I’m going to try a different structure.  Yes, I’m appalled, too, but I want this book done, and the structure is kneecapping me.   Also I’ve known for some time that there’s a dead spot in the middle of Act One, so that has to be fixed.  I tried moving the turning points between Act One and Two around, but that made things worse.  There’s good stuff in this book, but there’s also meh, and I cannot have meh.

So I went back into the first two acts and started looking for high points that could be considered soft turning points. Like:

• Nita drinks the scupper and Nick knows she’s different and tells the boys to find out everything about her.  I love that scupper scene sequence, I’m not messing with that, I just have to hit that turning point harder.

• Then there’s the guy trying to shoot Nita and getting double-tapped by Button.  That’s a turning point in their relationship and the first solid clue that Nita has that the supernatural is real.  She ignores it, but she remembers it.  

• Then Nick gets yanked into hell and finds out about Nita’s heritage and gets saddle with Mammon and Max.

• And finally Nita sees Nick smite Rich and knows it’s all true.  

So, okay, based on this, we’re not doing this in acts, we’re doing it in Parts.  Like episodes. They still begin in regrouping from a turning point and end in a new turning point, the turning points just aren’t cataclysmic like act turning points.  That fixes it, right?

No.  The turning points have to be about the protagonist.  (Because I said so, that’s why.)  Turning points one and three are Nick’s, and two is Button’s.  Four belongs to Nita because that’s the old act turning point.  Nita has to have the other three.   I DON’T WANT TO DO THAT MUCH REWRITING.

Suck it up, Jenny, nobody said this was going to be easy.

Okay, Button’s (second TP) can be about Nita and Button beginning their partnership; I can fix that by tweaking.  Probably.  It’s in Nita’s PoV already, so it’s doable.

Nick getting dragged back to Hell is a good solid turning point, and he’s the second lead, so I’m going to give  him that one.  (BECAUSE I SAID SO.)

That leaves the first turning point, which has to be Nita’s, damn it, and as of now it ends in Nick’s PoV.  BUT that last scene is only 700 words, so it’s really more of a coda, and it’s all about Nita.  The scene before that is Nita’s PoV, and it’s the one where she sees Nick as a skeleton, so . . .   ARGH.

Okay, so if I leave the first turning point as it is, juice up the part 2/Button shoots turning point as a major move in their partnership, leave the part 3 turning point in Nick’s PoV in Hell, and keep Nita’s come-to-realize at the end of Act One (which I think is freaking brilliant if I do say so myself) I’m okay, right?

No.  The word counts for those four parts are 


See that 14311?  That’s the dead spot.  So if I move 5,400 thousand words up, I’ll have the rhythm I need, 11,000, 10,000, 9000, 7000, more or less.   Five thousand words means the breakfast scene ends up as the last scene in Part 2.  You remember the breakfast scene.  It’s four thousand words of people talking.  

So something big has to happen at the end of the breakfast scene.

• End of Part 1: Nita sees the boys are green and Nick’s a skeleton; discounts it because she’s drunk.
• End of Part 2: [Give me a minute here.]
• End of Part 3: Nick goes to Hell; I’ve got a scene right before that where Nita sees Forcas’s head in the acamas box and flips out.
• End of Part 4: Nita sees Nick smite and realizes it’s all true and he’s going to be the Devil

So Act One or the first four parts are about the arc of Nita accepting that the supernatural is real (I already knew that, I just didn’t know the TPs would line up like that.)  So what I need at the end of the breakfast scene is another big moment that jars Nita out of her certainty that there’s nothing supernatural on the island.  

That might work.   

It’s 4:30AM, we have a snow and ice storm coming this way, and I’m socked in until I fix this mother.    Expect snarling in the near future.

64 thoughts on “If It’s Not Working, Stop Doing It

  1. You can do it! Sometimes looking at something differently breaks the ice jam loose. And hey, it’s not like you’re going anywhere. (We’re expecting 8-12 inches here in upstate NY, and I’m planning to start a new novel, while also doing proof edits on the one I just finished.)

  2. It IS Artfull February though and this is both Art and creativity so at least you’re covering that…

    It’s going to be amazing when you finish though. You and The Girls can do this.

  3. Can you do something with her father? I mean the Mayor. The Nick revelation where the Mayor does the calculation of time and clearly knows EVERYTHING about Hell is powerful. Can you have Nita have a revelation there “he’s joking around/no he’s not/yes, he must be” on something? Or Mort… you know, I love the breakfast scene, but it does just stop. She’s all “I have to get to work, goodbye” and leaves, and wait, before that there’s a lot of food stealing FROM Nita — maybe she could steal some food back? So she’s turning it around and getting some agency, also humanity, possibly a clue? Maybe Sandy could bring some hot bacon or a sausage (no, this is America, no good sausages) or something and put it by Nick but Nita could take it? While dismissing but registering something Mort or the Mayor is saying that connects to the demons? Just brainstorming here, please ignore if not helpful.

    1. No. It used to be there was no good sausage. But at least in Portland there are several places making their own sausage, some new in the last few years but some that have been here forever. You just can’t buy it at the local supermarket. You go to butcher shops where people have their game or their stock butchered or who make their own sausage, you go to restaurants that make their own sausages that have meat markets attached, you check for German deli’s that make their own sausage or hams or even their own corn beef and pastrami. Or as a last resort you can get your cusinart out and chop your own meat and add spices and make country style sausages.

      Sorry to rant. We take food very seriously here.

      1. Oh that’s great. Very glad to hear the US sausage situation is looking up! I was just thinking a diner breakfast wouldn’t have good sausage, but they could then, artisanal sausage flown in from Portland.

        I’m very spoiled for sausage. I live in Montreal.

        1. Sausage is actually pretty easy to make. I do it in a food processor (Italian, and something called Colonial which is super-sagey), so I can imagine a diner having its own proper meatgrinder. (-: Especially in the midwest. Many homes used to have a meatgrinder when I was a kid . . . .

      2. Good sausage in Milwaukee, too. My husband just got some peach habanero, which I will enjoy saying but will certainly not eat.

    2. Brainstorming is ALWAYS helpful.

      I think I’m just going to stab Nick. I woke up with that idea. Maybe get a “Stop that, you’re ruining my shirts” thing going. The visual of Nick with a knife in his chest looking annoyed appeals to me, and would be another WTF? moment for Nita.

      1. As an Italian coworker of mine said about her beloved sons (she has three):
        “Doesn’t it make you just want to stab them?!”

      2. I said earlier that I love this stabbing him (and his response) – and that’s because it’s a game changer moment And it opens up possibilities and it freshens up everything for the reader. It’s unexpected in the moment, but makes sense to the character/s and the story.

        I’m all for anything and everything as long as it is a universal truth for the character/s and it works.

        There are things writers do (I’ve probably done them myself) where something you want to put in, or think is funny, doesn’t work because it isn’t true for the character. The story will survive all kinds of insanity as long as it’s what the character would do.

        It sounds like, and feels like something Nita would do. I say go for it, see how it feels to you, and go from there with it.

    3. SmokeHouse a small shop in Norwell, MA. They have samples grilling at the entrance for customers to try. I usually get English bangers for my husband and chicken rosemary sausage, the rosemary really comes out in the flavor. Many other varieties as well. So good!

  4. Changing the way you work, especially if it has worked for you before, is SO FLIPPING HARD. I have stronger vocabulary to apply to that, but yes. And it gets doubly frustrating when you can see what isn’t working, but trying to see how to fix it feels like seeing around corners. Habits and practice and the physics of light just … don’t work that way.

  5. Oh no! Not the graph paper! 😮

    Honey. I got nuthin.

    But methanks you for putting this up. I’ve been a bit demotivated on writing for my studies. And now, in telling yourself to suck it up, you’ve told me. Muchos gracias.


    1. I do not like plaques with sayings on them, but I bought one last month. It’s a narrow strip of wood, no illustrations or fancy fonts, that says, “Suck it up, Buttercup.”

      1. I refuse to hang the Welcome sign my FIL made because every time I look at it, all I can see is an open invitation to every damn vampire around.

        1. And welcome mats at the door? Heck no. No point in taking foolish chances. Because the penalties if you’re wrong are rather drastic.

        2. (-: Write “except vampires and anyone else intending harm” on the back of the plaque, mat, whatever.

  6. Is there necessarily a difference between a turning point for the character vs. a turning point for the reader? Rather than a decision made, it could be a reveal that majorly changes the reader’s perspective on things. Character development isn’t always about change in the present, but just opening up the possibilities.

    1. Yes, but in my books, the reader sees the story through the protagonist’s eyes. Omniscient can do what you’re suggesting, but since third limited means the reader’s PoV is the protagonist’s, they both turn at a pressure point.

      1. But in that case, the reveal can be of a thing the protagonist takes for granted, which is why it hasn’t come up in the narrative before.
        Or does a turning point have to be reflected in the tone constructed by the prose?

        1. The turning point has to turn the story. That is, the story turns in a new direction, becomes new, because of the event that happens at that point.

          So Nita’s big turning point is when she sees Nick smite Rich and realizes that he really is dead and going to be the Devil. After that, she cannot tell the same story she’s been telling.

          That’s huge, but turning points can be softer. There’s one now where Nita sees Forcas’s head rise out of the box screaming, and she starts to panic because that can’t be real, so she goes looking for Nick because she needs him to explain. That’s big because she has to know then the supernatural is real, but she’s still coping, still trying to figure out a rational reason; it’s also big because it’s the first time she really needs Nick. So it’s a step toward that last turning point, beginning to believe, and then getting slammed with Nick really being the next Devil. The one before that is probably going to be Nick getting stabbed. The one before that is when she gets drunk and sees the boys as green and Nick as a skeleton. So they’re all turning points in the way she tells the story to herself: The supernatural is not real, the supernatural is not real but I’m hallucinating some very weird stuff, the supernatural is not real,but some very bad stuff is happening and how the hell did that knife wound turn out to be superficial?, I’m almost positive that the supernatural is not real but what is that thing in the box?, the supernatural is real and Nick is going to be the Devil.

  7. I know I should tough-love this and give critiques or something.
    I got nothin.

    Except I’m so excited and I love this book already and it’s going to be AMAZING. And also, maybe a new structure format will help with some of your other stuff that’s been waiting?

    And I love your work and your sharing of your process and everything. Thanks.

      1. I wish I could supply the cheese and crackers to go along with that w(h)ine. Ba-dump-pa!!!
        Alas, I also have nothing.

  8. Yay, Jenny! You and The Girls can make it happen!!

    Ok, that’s all I’ve got. Hope it helps.

    Also, we haven’t had measurable rainfall in 117 days. Send us your ice and snow. kthnkz

    1. Maybe if they weren’t so busy wanting to build oil pipe lines so often, they could build water pipe lines instead that would funnel excess water in areas that don’t need it or could flood to areas that could use the water. Way more helpful & environment friendly:)

  9. I would happily listen to you snarl all day (although I hope you feel less like snarling soon). As far as possibly helpful comments, I’ve got nothing. I do remember you saying once that any structure will do, as long as there is structure, and giving the example of Steven Brust’s novel where each chapter began with a cleaning and repair bill for clothing, and the chapter then showed how the damage to the clothing occurred.

      1. I used to have a good memory. Now it just plays tricks on me. Sigh.

        The book I was referring to is Teckla by Steven Brust. He’s very good, but he does like to play around with structure. He uses prologues, he jumps around in time, he’s always pushing the envelope, and I still inhale every word.

      1. I would so have bought the Devil’s Breath socks, but they weren’t for sale, at least not where I could find them.

      2. LOL, I read this in email originally, and it came just after a comment about sausages, and I was quite surprised. What sort of shop specializes in Angel’s Trumpet sausages, I thought. One that also provides insurance policies covering Very Annoying Husbands? LOL. Very relieved to find that this is about SOCKS. (Although datura-infused socks would probably . . . knock your socks off. At least get you up on a broomstick, LOL. It’s not terribly farfetched; there are some socks for cracked heels that have beeswax and lavender, I think.)

  10. You are making me cynical about method. Must be this, doesn’t work, let’s go to that. I thought second Episodic method would work all the time. However, appreciate how you arrived at this point, sounds great, as did everything before. Love the characters. I don’t see your characters as needlessly complicating things. And I’m betting you’d say you don’t either.
    Many roads to Oz.

    1. Yes: my feeling is go for whatever helps it come alive. Four-act structure seems a bit academic – though fine if it helps. But you want to take the reader on a twisty rollercoaster ride – off the tracks.

      1. To be honest, I’ve never been wed to the idea of four acts, just acts in general, so the episodes aren’t that much of a break since they still arc to turning points, etc. I just got used to four.

  11. Just going to say two things. Didn’t this all start as the response to a TV program gone wrong? Episodic episodes might be the way to go.

    Second: that was pretty powerful stuff at breakfast. I was eating my egg and toast this morning, re-living the breakfast scene. So, you’ve got the food-triggered pleasure chemicals buzzing around that scene already. And definitely some nether-region pleasure chemicals from the romance potential. If you end the scene with a trigger that induces scary woo-woo adrenaline-type chemicals . . . well, sock it to me. I can take it!

  12. There’s a beauty to your using an episodic structure since this was originally inspired by a tv show! Maybe you use an ensemble show model and different turning points for different characters like a show will have storylines that showcase different characters – a little Leveragey? 🙂

    1. I shouldn’t have used the word “episodes” because that’s more like a string of linked novellas or short stories. What I’m doing is “parts” of a single story. Episodes would be more like “Hot Toy,” “Cold Hearts,” and “Warm Bodies,” three complete stories that are linked by a common cast. (Gotta change that last title.)

  13. “Hot Toy” is my dependable holiday happy read. Where might I find “Cold Hearts” and “Warm Bodies”? I’m thinking they’re together somewhere. Must go investigate …

    1. They’re together in my brain.
      I did post pieces of “Cold Hearts” back when I was slinging all my WiPs out here. Remember Courtney and the texts? That one. The third one has about 200 words written on it. It’s about the assistant Courtney gets in the “Cold Hearts” and Colin, the guy who tries to hold her up at the beginning of that book. The assistant’s name is Darcy and Colin’s been hired to kill her.

      I have romance in my soul.

  14. I have most of an outline drafted out, love the plot points, everything’s groovy…and then I couldn’t get my main character to talk. Couldn’t even get her description down. Sullen little….I know it’s me. I have stuff that I do no want to access yet, but it is her character arc to go back into that conflict. So, meh. I’m trying out a different character that won’t shut up.

    1. I did that with Faking It. I thought the protagonist was Eve, but she wouldn’t do what I needed. Then supporting character Tilda stepped up . . .


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