I recently got a critique back that made me want to just throw my entire novel in the trash. Don’t worry, I didn’t, and it doesn’t take a whole lot to make me think this way. It’s because I’m starting to get a case of “maybe there is too much soup in the pot.”
For those of you unfamiliar with “the soup in the pot” it comes from Jennifer Eaton. I’m deciding to steal it and use it here. The idea is basically if you are writing a scene and more than one person says the same thing about it, then maybe, just maybe, you should go fix it.
The problem is… I don’t know how to fix this particular thing. I think it’s because I’m not writing a graphic novel, or a movie, or a short story. Let me elaborate so it makes sense.
I have a spell. It is a very particular spell that looks a certain way. It is intended to be a signature spell. My main character uses this spell in a very particular way in chapter 4 of the book. Later, in another chapter she uses THE SAME SPELL. She calls it the same thing. She casts it the same way. The effects are nearly identical.
Three separate people have commented on the second usage of the spell, saying stuff along the lines of:
When did she learn this new spell or why didn’t she use this spell before.
She did use it before. That’s the whole point. There’s like two spells in the whole book with names and this is one of them.
This makes me think there are two problems. I am not making a significant enough impression on the first usage of the spell. It is either A) being forgotten or B) There are too many spells/neat things that the reader is getting overwhelmed.
In previous drafts I had a lot more background, more named spells, more world building. It seemed like every time I added some cool piece of flare, readers got bogged down. It is sort of a necessary evil to some extent because the main character comes ready to go out of the box. She has her own abilities and this is the time for the reader to be like… wow she knows cool stuff. Which she should, she’s been trained to do this sort of thing.
That being said I am going to go over both usages one last time. I don’t have much more flare I can eliminate before I just have a generic story where the main character uses “knife” and “magic” because I have to keep in the back of my mind one key question: “How important to the overall plot is this piece of flare?”
If this was a graphic novel I could physically show you a picture and you’d be like “oh that’s the same spell, I remember seeing it.” Same thing with a movie. If she pulled out her sword, it would always be black with purple polka dots because it would be drawn/ filmed that way… every time.
I have to make you remember she did this spell with my words almost ten chapters later. It’s hard to do that. I can barely get people to remember the names of her weapons and I repeat them virtually every time she uses them.
I know part of it is the crit process. It requires going so slowly through a story that you lose your chance to get immersed in the world. You’re always looking at it with one hand out going, “should I tell him/her to move this sentence?”
I mean, this isn’t a novel breaking issue… but it annoys me.