Remember how my editor told me my story was avoiding conflict?

Late last week I sent off a revised first two chapters to her for feedback, pleased with the way I’d reworked them, and confident that there was now more conflict.

I was pumped and working on chapter three when the message came back: Do more.

Those two words froze me. I’d set aside the public holiday to keep moving forward with Wherever You Go revisions. Now, I felt like I’d taken a bunch of steps backward. Again.

Even now, that moment reminds me of this poem and scene from one of my favourite movies, Dead Poets Society.

“Gotta do more, gotta be more. Chaos screaming, chaos dreaming, Gotta do more, gotta BE more.”

I read her words over and over:

“The prologue still packs a powerful emotional wallop.”

Phew! But …

“I’d like you to take another step further into conflict. I’d like you to see if you can shape the chapter with the conflict front and centre as you do in the prologue.”

She went on to say: “They (the characters) have to suffer before they can get to their reward.”

By this time, I was convinced that my characters weren’t the only ones who had to suffer for their reward.

I understood what she was saying, but I had to find a way to reshape the chapter with more conflict AND keep my voice (and some aspects I felt were needed). But as the day slipped away, and no words went down, I felt frustration rising and swelling like a wave.

‘Let’s walk along the beach,’ my husband said. ‘It might help.’

I wasn’t convinced, but went anyway. He was right.

I didn’t know what I needed until it was in front of me. Until my feet dipped into the healing salt water and I stared out to infinity.

And that’s when the idea came. An argument in the middle of the town my characters had just moved into.

Back at home, I let the keyboard have it. I let words flow without censoring them. I let conflict drive the chapter. And then I sent that raw chapter to my editor.

Her response the next day:

“Monique, honey, this is so fantastic. I loved every word of it. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s poignant – it enlarges these characters into people I can invest in emotionally. The writing is textured. It’s spot on psychologically. You build the tension and mystery. You make these people REAL. I want to read this whole novel. You have hooked me.”

Oh, the relief. Oh, the smile that stretched across my face like a little kid: I did it!

But I’m onto her now. I understand it’s not going to be easy. I’m going to have to do this over and over. I’ll have to earn my reward.

Those who know me in real life know I have an uneasy relationship with conflict, so it means digging deeper and deeper every single time I sit down to write. I have to keep raising the stakes, just as my editor is doing to me.

But my book will be stronger because of two words: Do more.

Have you faced a similar situation in your writing?



Monique Mulligan

Monique Mulligan

4 Responses

  1. Sometimes you can’t see what your story needs until someone else points it out. It can be daunting at first to hear what (most of the time) is the truth. But once you let go and allow yourself to look at your work/art through someone else’s eyes, it really opens everything up.

    I’m glad you got your groove on. Keep at it! 😀

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