I’m writing a story. My problem is that a big part of this story takes place in China, and outside of the usual clichés I know next to nothing about China.

Ignorance is not an unsolvable problem, of course. There are lots of books about China — I have two on my nightstand right now — and of course the internet is brimming with info. You can with a little reading and a little googling get enough of a feel for a place to write about it convincingly, or at least avoid looking like a fool.

But what you cannot get from books and googled images is insight. Even if the book you’re reading offers interesting insights, they’re somebody else’s insights, and nothing is worse than recycled insight. A revelation that somebody else has earned by living in and seeking to understand a place can only be a fact when it’s repeated to others, and by the time it comes third-hand it’s already a cliché.

Why do I need insight into China? Mostly it’s the structure of the story: the protagonist comes to China thinking that he’s looking for one thing, fails to find it, but is redirected to seeking something else instead. It would be nice if the protagonist’s failure and renewal were related in a deep and interesting way to the country that he’s visiting. The story doesn’t really require that his destination be China — it could be Vietnam or India or Brazil or any number of other places around the globe — but wherever it is, the place as presented in the story must seem authentic, and must relate organically to the character’s transformation. It will not do to have him visit Exotic Foreign Locale #12 and be impressed by the friendly but nondescript brown-skinned natives. I’m trying to be a little more original than that.

And that’s why I’m trawling my sources looking for the thing that’s going to turn him around. I don’t know what it is yet, but I trust that when I see it things will click and I’ll know how to finish my story.

(If you, by the way, have anything interesting along these lines to share, please do so in the comments. I can’t say what I’m looking for, but anything interesting and informative about the rapidly industrializing countries of Asia or Latin America would fit.)

CS Inman (aka Sän) has a surprisingly good synopsis up to read. Basically everyone, everywhere, hates writing their novel synopsis, so I’m automatically impressed by anyone that manages to write a synopses that’s entertaining and informative.

This even applies to the victims participants in Joshua Palmatier’s synopsis day. Now the synopses listed here were “successful” synopses, meaning that they were for novels that eventually sold. But even so, I found most of them dull, incomprehensible, or overly long. Probably the easiest one to read was Mike Brotherton’s synopsis of Star Dragon. That one suffered from the opposite problem: it was fast-paced and easy to follow, but the writing style itself felt amateurish. (I have no idea if that applies to the book itself, which I haven’t read.)

Reading all those pro synopses made me think that maybe the synopsis was free to be long and boring, which was good because my synopsis was long and boring. It was 2500 words of dull. It was a plodding, interminable death-march through a dozen names and a series of irrelevant places.

When I set out to pare it down this week, the first pass got it down to 1250 words and something of a respectable hook.Sän and Eva have both helped me further pare it down and spruce it up, so the final draft will be under 1,000 words, and hopefully will actually help sell the novel.

My WIP is in trouble, and it’s all because of my protagonist.

The story, as originally conceived, alternates POV between the two main characters. I’ve written about 20K words with those two characters, and while it was going pretty well, I was having some trouble with one of my protags. He seemed to be kind of a non-entity. I had no clear idea of his personality, and my attempts to give him some character were awkward and forced. (This is the same problem that I had with the beginning of my finished novel, but fortunately I got to kill that character off and find a new one about 1/3 of the way through the book.) This was making it hard to write, particularly the chapters where he was the only one onscreen.

Then a thirteen-year-old girl dropped out of the rafters and tried to kill my other, non-problematic protag. This was completely unexpected. It was also much more interesting. A young girl who takes on full-grown men that are trying to massacre her family? Now that is a character I could write. After a bit of hesitation, I began plotting out how I would weave the story around her, and leave my original protag mostly out of it.

I’ve decided that’s what I’m going to do, but I am still flummoxed by what to do with the 20K words that already exist. My rule when writing a novel is “no rewriting until the first draft is done”–otherwise the first draft will never get done, as I’ll be constantly tinkering with the first ten chapters or so. But I think I may have to tinker with the draft anyway, since I don’t think I can write any further without knowing what happened to my new protag so far.

I’ve never been a 13-year-old girl, so it might be hard to write her. And if my protag is a teenager, does that mean my work is YA?