Oh, pantyhose. I had to wear pantyhose at my first job. I worked in the junior’s section at a department store in small-town Texas, helping old ladies buy Tommy Hilfiger clothes for their teenage daughters. One time an old guy asked me to try on clothes for him so that he could “see what they would look like on his daughter.” Yeah, right. I said no, and he approached another sales associate. Eventually the managers banned him the store.
I’m not sure why I told that anecdote. I guess I’m setting the scene.
Anyway, you ladies (and gents, perhaps) who have worn pantyhose should know that moment when you first spot a tiny hole in the fabric. Just one small spot where you see bare flesh peeking out through the iridescent fleshy fabric. And you know you’re doomed. Because one tiny hole stretches, and it creates another, and another, all the way up the leg, a tiny ladder of destruction revealing that you haven’t actually shaved your legs in like a week.
This same principle applies to stories, too.
You’re writing happily along when you realize you’ve forgotten something. Maybe you put a gun on the mantelpiece and then ignored it. Maybe you changed your mind about something, flagged the places where you would need to make the alterations, and wrote on without actually fixing it. Whatever you did, the holes run all the way back to the beginning of your story.
I know that my first book is full of runs at least as bad as those in the photo. I changed my mind about the plot several times as I was writing, and I floundered in the middle trying to get to an ending I hadn’t anticipated. One character took her story by the balls and went wild. Another got a little confused when things didn’t go his way. (Like how I blame them, when it’s indisputably my fault?)
Knowing about those holes has kept me from starting the editing process. I’ve intended all week to move the silly thing over to Scrivener from Word, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. It’s a lot of work, and I’m afraid I’ll discover I have to pitch the pair of pantyhose that is my novel.
It would be so easy to give up. We know that nothing can fix that doomed pair pantyhose. Some people say apply clear nail polish to stop the run before it gets ahead. But I’ve tried that, and I still had to go to the eight-grade Christmas dance with an embarrassing hole in my black stocking. Sometimes things just can’t be fixed.
Still, there is hope. Novels are not pantyhose: even a thousand runs do not necessarily mean the trashcan. Sometimes we may have to ditch whole chunks of our writing, thousands of words that will get tucked away into “If only…” or “What was I thinking?” folders. Sometimes we have to start over from scratch. But the seed of the story, that little nugget of potential remains.
You just have to find the right way to tell it.