Chapter 16 is really bad.
It has a few redeeming qualities here and there. A few nice descriptions, some good snippets of conversation.
But it's not the Chapter 16 I imagined. It's mostly a rambling mess of pointless dialogue that will never make it into the second draft. I re-read it this morning and just shook my head.
So, now I must decide what to do next. Should I plow on to Chapter 17? Or should I keep picking at the Chapter 16 draft until it's more of what it needs to be?
This is not a case of the story writing itself and taking me into a surprise direction that could magically work. But I think I know what it's a case of. Several things.
(1) I was distracted from the novel many times. I never got into a rhythm with Chapter 16. And Chapter 16 is supposed to be a big, important, intense, climactic chapter. Instead it's a three-ring circus. That would be OK, except that the two chapters before it are rather three-ring-circusy, and Chapter 16 was supposed to be a plunge into depth and meaning--both a break from the three-ring circus, and a step up to a deeper level of story.
(2) I knew that I wanted the chapter to be big and intense, but I never actually sat down and discussed with my characters why it would be big and intense. From a plot standpoint, I know why. But on the small scale ... just what was it I expected my characters to think, do, or say that would result in such bigness and intensity? I'm not sure.
(3) I want my main character (the one through whose eyes the reader experiences most of the novel) to be confused by a conversation with a woman who is caught up in her inner thoughts and memories and is, quite frankly, not making a lot of sense. I succeeded in making the woman's rambles confusing and hard to follow. Oh, yes. I definitely did that. But I think the reader will get frustrated with the confusion of trying to read it. There's a metatext element there, which I suppose is good, but at the same time, I don't want my reader to have to stop, back up, and re-read something because they got lost in the verbiage. I suppose I could say, "Oh, I meant for them to get lost because I wanted them to experience the same sense of lostness that my main character is experiencing." But I don't mean for them to get lost that way, at least not in this piece of writing. It's one thing to make your reader feel a certain emotion; it's another to make them stumble over your syntax and struggle with the very act of reading what you've written.
So. I think what I need to do is flesh out my outline for Chapter 17. I think a couple of hours of longhand writing will give me a better idea of whether I need to do more work on Chapter 16 now.
I need to make sure my eagerness to get this thing finished doesn't compromise my novel-writing standards.
Update: I decided I need to doctor Ch. 16 after all. So far, I've eliminated about 1,000 words of meaningless ramblings. I feel better now.