Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

Published July 3, 2013 by amberskyef

I hate that when I’m re-writing, I can’t find the heart of the story until a little more than halfway through, and then it just pops up and hits me like a freight train, and I’m left on the rails as a bloody flesh sack wondering why it took so long for the train to hit me. But this at least means that the most complicated part of a novel for me to write, the final few chapters, have been taken care of because they convey the heart of the story so well. Of course, this also means that when line edits come, I’m going to have to smash the heart of the novel into every line that I’ve already written–or at least see if the heart is there, a heart I couldn’t see until that ‘aha!’ moment.

I honestly wanted my second draft to be that draft where everything is all nice and smoothed out, but the truth is, that’s a difficult thing to do because even as I’m re-writing I’m coming up with better ways to tell the story, and finding more plot holes that I can’t smooth out until I do line edits. But what’s different this time around is that I hopefully won’t need whole re-writes with the third draft, that I can actually work on a few chapters a day and get line edits completed in about two weeks.

So what is this heart that I’m speaking of? Originally His Vanity was simply about a suicidal teen being taken on a journey to get better. Of course at the time I knew there was more to it, but you can’t really know the heart until you start writing. Even then it’s difficult to find the heart of anything in a rough draft. In reality, His Vanity is about a sick teen learning to cope with the pain already present. There’s some healing and what not along the way, but I am doing my best to present a realistic view of depression for those out there with treatment-resistant depression or those out there who can’t get treatment for depression. Treatment is not as easy as some media make it out to be. You go through meds, they fail, you try again. You find meds that do work, but you get crap side effects, so you have to drop those meds. For some people, it’s easy. One med and that’s it. But for others, it may take a year or more to find that stability, and so I want Gene to be the voice for those who struggle, really, really struggle because from what I’ve read in the sick lit genre of YA literature, there really isn’t that voice. They pop a pill, and suddenly they’re stable. Crap goes awry when they stop their meds. 

I desperately want this book to be more than just a fantasy novel. I want it to be in the vein of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. His Vanity is a book about mental illness that just happens to also be a fantasy book because the fantasy aspect is needed to show Gene there is an entire world out there that exists beyond his own. It also exists to help foster within Gene another perspective of life that he would not have gotten staying home–because his parents are very protective of him. Not only that, but the fantasy element also exists to show anyone who is afflicted with a mental illness that there is something special in them, even if it can only be a metaphor. There is truly something special. Pain demands to be felt, but it also has the ability to change us, and we can choose to let pain change us for the better. We can use that pain and make a difference (NAMI springs to mind).

It has not been an easy book to write because mental illness is not easy to write about.  It’s messy, it’s painful, it’s so, so, so, painful, but I’m doing my best to show that mental illness needs to be accepted as any other illness; I also have to accept that not everyone is going to get that. You don’t need to have a tragic story to be afflicted with a tragic illness. People simply  need to accept that if you’re sick, you’re sick, and that’s all that matters. The reasons are pointless.

So this is what I want His Vanity to accomplish:

  • You don’t need a tragic story to be sick
  • Getting treatment for mental illness is not as easy as mainstream culture leads us to believe
  • Mental illness is as serious as any other serious illness
  • People who are mentally ill are simply sick, and that is that
  • People who are mentally ill are not broken
  • People who are mentally ill are going to have to accept the pain that comes along with their illnesses
  • But people who are mentally ill have it in them, somewhere, to overcome their pain, even if they can’t completely erase it

4 comments on “Finding the Heart of a Novel (Or Ripping it Out)

  • You make some excellent points. This brought to my mind something C.S. Lewis wrote –

    “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

  • I too am attempting to tackle some big themes in the form of a fantasy novel. I was a little surprised that the story presented itself to me in that way, but we follow the muse where she leads, eh?

    • I wouldn’t have even been able to come to the point with this book without having been hospitalized twice. I tried for about two years to create this book, to do a dark book on mental illness, but I just needed something for this book to come to reality. I’m not going to say that being hospitalized twice was worth the creation of this book, but you might as well take something from your pain, right? I’m at least going to say I’m grateful that something good came out of my bad experiences or else I’d still be struggling with this book–which presented itself in many forms that I couldn’t get control of.

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