Pick a Thread

I’m working on something new (possible title- FIERCE).
I’m trying to get my thoughts in order. I’d already written about 3/4 of the book but after putting it aside for a year or so while I was working on something else, I’ve realized that my approach was all wrong. I think I’ve got the voice but I’ve decided to change it from third person to first person. I’m also trying to pin down the main storyline.
I’ve got friendship, teen girls, boys, punks in the 80s, communal living, drugs, sex, graffiti, mental illness, funyuns,dumpster-diving,
suicide, cheating, cops, jail, hookers, love, family, making new families, families breaking apart. A whole mess of stuff and rather than try to beat it into anything resembling a cohesive whole, I’ve decided to pick and choose. Actually what I’m going to do before I write another word is figure out one sentence which will describe the book. After that I’ll decide what fits and what doesn’t.
I’d like to capture the messiness of life and love and loss without having the book be a mess – which is easier than it sounds.
Coming up with that one sentence is hard too. About as hard as writing a query letter. But it’s crucial. I like to think of it as the spine of the book. Everything else (all those lovely details and characters) sort of hang off of it in great fleshy sheets.
Once you know what the book is about then you can work on motivation (the characters, but also yours- youll find that if everything is clear in your mind, you wont get blocked as often.) You can get quite convoluted in the plotting as well because everything will come back to that one central theme and will make sense.
Im thinking of constructing this book as a sort of mystery. Actually I wasn’t until I started picking threads and figuring it all out. Then it sort of leapt at me. There should be misunderstanding at the root of it all. A pivotal scene. Something the narrator thinks is the key to everything, whereas in fact she has been missing clues all along. If I’m successful in erecting the books spine, shoring it up and making it solid, things that are unclear to my narrator will be clear to the reader. The reader will be right in the thick of it, pulled in and carried by the flow of the story telling. Invested.
Most books are quite simple if you start to pick them apart. There is a line from a to b. There may be tangents, but the thread runs true. The best books seem to have always existed. Complete in themselves.
Sometimes it reminds me of the archaeologist kits you can buy for kids. My son loves them. You get a block of sandstone-like clay, goggles, a pick or chisel, and a brush. Carefully you chip the surrounding stone away and uncover a miniature dinosaur skeleton or a sphinx or a collection of ammonites. It makes an unholy mess but if you do it carefully, methodically, you end up with a treasure.