Some chapters are just a struggle, man. Today, I had to tackle the chapter titled, “Chelmsford - May 1995”. My advisor had said, in his review of my previous draft, that this chapter was “among the weaker parts of the book.” In fact, the whole subplot that develops in this chapter has been viewed by some as the weakest of the three main threads running through the novel. I had already punched up the scenes building up to this chapter, and the scenes that came after it were working as well. It was just this one that was causing a problem. And today, I am happy to say, I believe that’s a problem I have corrected.
The novel, as you may or may not know, focuses on the lives of the Silver cousins as they grow up in the sometimes tumultuous 1990s. I had previously staged plays based on the lives of two of the cousins. Veronica Silver was the subject of 1998’s A Lick and a Promise and Michael Silver was the subject of 1999’s The People vs. Jesus Christ. Matthew Silver’s life (or, rather, his death), had been chronicled in the short story, “Death by Cursor”, which appeared both in the Bradford ReView and, later, in my short story collection, Those Little Bastads.
Ashley Silver, the fourth cousin, had only ever been explored in an unfinished screenplay meant to conclude the trilogy of Silver dramas that began with Lick and Christ. Going into the novel, she was the least developed of them all. Developing her character has been the primary goal of this latest revision.
The preceding chapters, both those in which Ashley was the POV character, and those in which she was not, focused on Ashley’s life as a child. In this chapter, she is a teenager involved in her first serious crush/relationship. It’s with a boy she’s long lusted over, a boy who, because of Ashley’s weight problem (she’s very heavy at this point), wants little to do with her.
In my original drafts, Ashley propositioned the boy while spending time alone with him in his basement. And, when he rejected her, that became the impetus for a solid focus on weight loss and fitness. But my advisor thought that the whole thing was not organic, that it did not rise naturally out of their interactions together.
Part of this was that we didn’t really know Ashley all that well before this chapter. So, I worked on that while working on the chapters up to this point. And part of it was that my advisor was right: this chapter did not feel as natural and flowing as the rest of it. It was, as he called it, “among the weaker parts of the book.”
What I did with this revision was to turn the concept of the chapter on its head. I asked myself, “What if Ashley has already propositioned him, and he’s said yes with some reservations and now we’re seeing the fruits of Ashley’s labors? What if, now that she has what she thought she wanted, she realizes it’s not what she wanted at all?”
With that question in my head, I got right to it. I had already spent much of the morning trying to simply tweak what was there, and that wasn’t working. So this time I started typing the whole thing over. I find that doing that is liberating for me. And what came out, as I’ve already mentioned, was quite good.
The work I did over the rest of the afternoon may have suffered for the amount of effort I put into this one chapter. But, thankfully, the rest of the chapters I covered today were not in such dire need of help.