December 11, 2020

A Surprise Novel ~ Part 2

Joanna Davidson Politano

Part 2

. . . I ended up using the outline for about three chapters and scrapping the rest (then going back and changing those three chapters later). I’d heard plotting made the work faster, but that’s just not how my brain unfolds mysteries!

I can’t tell you how many times I’d write about ten chapters, feel totally wrong about the story, and delete six of those. (My motto is when you feel like your draft is bad, delete to the point where you were still smitten with it and go a different direction for the rest. It feels like backtracking, but you move forward with smoother, better material.) I’ve done the “fast and furious” first draft with promises to myself to go back and fix it later, but that’s another one of those “not my style” tricks. I need a solid foundation laid with each chapter for the next to be any good. So I actually did a lot of deleting and rewriting with this book, and it became a frustrating one.

Then I stumbled upon my inspiration. During one of my “stuck” periods, a friend suggested I watch a related show called, “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered” and I truly fell in love. In the evenings of that drafting stage, I binged every episode about the dead letter office and misplaced letters. I didn’t glean plot ideas, but I was inspired. The subtle way truth was woven in, the gentle but authentic dynamic between well-drawn characters, it all invited me to craft an even better story.

When I finally had the first draft done, with a month until deadline, it still felt wrong. I sent it to my mentor for feedback and he told me hey, I know you think this is the theme, but it’s actually this totally different thing over here. He had many other helpful notes too, but that single sentence woke me up to the “point” of my story—after I’d already written the whole thing in another vein. But he was right, and the theme he brought forward actually did exist strongly in the book already. I reimagined the ending, the part that would “drive home” the theme, and out blossomed the most surprising, beautiful truth about the human search for love, to know and be known. At last, I was deeply in love with this story and the truth it brought out. The entire story came together as a cohesive whole around this other theme I hadn’t even seen before.

I learned a lot in this project about not forcing anything—chapters that don’t work, writing techniques meant for someone else, and even themes that aren’t quite what the book is trying to say—even if it’s what you intended to say. I will say though, that moment of revelation concerning this story’s (really cool) theme came pretty late in the game, but it was very much worth the wait.

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of Lady Jayne Disappears, A Rumored Fortune, and Finding Lady Enderly. When she’s not homeschooling her small children, she spends much of her time spinning tales that capture the colorful,exquisite details in ordinary lives. She is always on the hunt for random acts of kindness, people willing to share their deepest secrets with a stranger, and hidden stashes of sweets. She lives with her husband and their two children in a house in thewoods near Lake Michigan and shares stories that move her at

1 comment:

  1. Love the way your brain works. :-) But you're right. An author knows when the story is 'off'. Thanks for a fascinating look into your process.