Less is more

I’ve reached the dreadful climactic denouement in my new story so, by way of light relief, I’ve been thinking about the structure of my first book.

As mentioned elsewhere, I’m not happy with Part 1 of The White Lady in the version currently under scrutiny by my faithful beta readers and recently submitted to unsuspecting literary agents.

I won’t bore you with my entire thought process because I’ve done nothing more than any decent, clear-sighted editor would do (although I will give credit for the daily prompts from this very nice e-learning exercise); suffice to say I have concluded that most of Part 1 (besides the opening section and the sex in chapter 5) is stilted, stodgy and dramatically slack.

I can see how this came about. I had a flash of inspiration (the garden! suffering suffragettes!) and jumped right in. I had no idea what would happen once the roses had metaphorically faded and so I meandered messily along; reminiscing, falling asleep in the sun, and forming unnecessary romantic attachments.

roses on wall

This should not have mattered – after all, my keyboard has a well-used ‘delete’ button – except that 100,000 words later Part 1 had become the stuff of legends; embedded in my psyche and engraved on my heart. My first-born. Perfect. Untouchable.

I’m not beating myself up about this (although I do feel embarrassed regret over my premature submissions) because I could not have written it any other way, at least not at this stage in my writing career. I must not minimise the anxiety I felt at the time: not enough words, not enough worthy themes, not enough story.

But I have learnt two lessons.

Start with a draft. I agonised over words and so didn’t see the paragraphs, let alone the plot. And, having spent so much time and effort on so much beautiful prose, change became impossible.

Have clear aims. My original aim was to write a feminist social history of early 20th century England focusing on the contribution of militant suffragists with additional modules on rural deprivation, mental illness, and temperate climate horticultural.

My new aims are thus:

  • to keep readers reading
  • to help readers get to know (and maybe like) my protagonist
  • to paint my protagonist’s world as she is experiencing it 
  • er, that’s it…



About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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