Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Wrinkles in the Space-Time Continuum

by Stephanie Black

I’m sitting here with huge, Disney-character-sized eyes, goggling over the fact that Jeff Savage can write a novel—and he writes fantastic novels!—in three to six months. It takes me that long to write a grocery list. Heck, I’ve been working on this blog post since I was fourteen.

OK, I’m not THAT slow. On my current work-in-progress—a sequel to my first novel, The Believer— it took me just over a year to churn out around 500 pages of first draft. I’m currently on draft three. It will take four drafts to get the book submission-ready, and if I had time, I’d love to give it five drafts, or six. Or forty. I usually don’t get tired of going through a manuscript as long as I can still see ways to improve it. In fact, I prefer rewriting to drafting (and that isn’t just a stalling mechanism to keep me from having to turn the manuscript in. Really. I swear).

Page count now stands at around 410. I overwrite like crazy on the first draft and then cut cut cut. I’m on excellent terms with the delete key. If I’m erasing whole scenes, or large chunks thereof, I’ll sometimes paste them into a rejects file. Then if the urge hits, I can go back and sigh over my beloved prose (or paste it back into the novel if I end up needing it, which happens occasionally). In addition to chucking repetitive scenes, I do a lot of trimming and tightening. When I draft, I tend to write paragraphs that make the same point six times, something like this: “Jane was scared. Her palms were sweaty. Her stomach knotted. Her knees knocked together. Her mouth was dry. Did I mention that she was scared?”

Another rewriting issue I deal with is Mutating Timeline Syndrome. I start out with a rough idea of when things are taking place but don’t worry about keeping track of every detail (sort of the way I keep track of my personal calendar, come to think of it). Then come rewriting time, I have to confront the fact that in chapter 3, I said ten days had passed, whereas in chapter 4, the same interval was two days long. Unless the story involves time travel (which it doesn’t), I’ve got a problem. Strangely enough, when I go back and read straight through a draft that took me many months to write, I find that things happen a LOT closer together than they did when I first wrote them. Weird.

I also discover that my characters seem to have gotten stupider. What seemed logical during the messy process of drafting now seems about as realistic as Scooby Doo and his gang taking on the bad guys solo and catching them in a trap using Shaggy’s train set (which is conveniently stashed in the back of the Mystery Machine.) I truly love Scooby Doo, but what worked for Shaggy and Fred doesn’t work when writing thrillers. If my characters are in a situation where the average person would have high-tailed it back to the Malt Shop and called the police, but I NEED my characters to stay put for plot purposes, I’d better give them a darn good reason for not bailing out. Rewriting is knocking out the phones and locking the doors, or tossing a hostage into a back room and setting the clock ticking so there’s no time to summon help, or giving the characters a solid reason not to trust the police. It’s also foreshadowing—planting that train set in the van and giving it a logical reason for existing. I know some authors can capture all the nuances of plotting on the first draft, but I’m not that mentally organized. I have trouble just getting my library books back on time.

Well, I’d better get to work. I told my editor I’d have the manuscript to her in April and I’ve got one and three-quarters drafts left to go. Either I’d better hope for some Star Trekkish interference with time so that somehow March lasts about 27 weeks or I’d better quit falling asleep when I’m supposed to be writing. I’m thinking the Captain Kirk option is more likely to happen.


At 3/15/2006 10:50 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I also need March to be 27 weeks long so that I can finish my current manuscript. Let me know if the Captain Kirk thing works out.

I have to say that I am in awe of the fact that you love to rewrite. I absolutely loathe rewrites and revisions and do everything in my power to make certain that I have to do as little of that as possible.

At 3/15/2006 3:31 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Sariah, I'm in awe of writers like you who can write so cleanly that you don't need much revision. I write a rough outline of my story before I start so I'll know where I'm going, but the outline basically tells me what happens, not how it happens. Not only do I not have the patience to work out every detail beforehand, but my mind just doesn't work that way. Not until I actually write the scenes do the shadings and subtleties and interconnections come to the surface.

I'd better quit blogging and get back to work. So far Kirk is a no-show.

At 3/15/2006 4:18 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

I just don't have the patience to rewrite. Writing is so dang hard that I never want to throw away anything I've written, so generally my first drafts are too short, and then I add to them.

At 3/15/2006 8:02 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Well...I don't know about the clean part. I haven't gotten my first line edits back yet. I'm more of a I sit and think about a story for a really long time and once everything has gelled in my head, then I write it down. That hasn't been the case so much with this current manuscript, because I no longer have that luxury of time. I'll be interested to see what my editor thinks of this one.

And you know guys, if no one else ever comes to our blog, at least we have the fun of chatting with each other. :)

At 3/15/2006 10:01 PM, Anonymous Amy Black said...


I love the blog. Very amusing. Much more interesting than geometry homework, anyway. I have to ask-- Is the position of the frog already taken? I would love to send in my resume. I could get great recommendations from my, I mean Stephanie Black, author extrordinaire.

At 3/15/2006 10:09 PM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

You crack me up. And I love Scooby-doo.

I find the whole writing concept fascinating.

At 3/16/2006 8:42 PM, Blogger KB said...

Stephanie -- You better not make March 27 weeks long. I'm waiting for that new novel to hit the bookstore shelves!


At 3/16/2006 8:43 PM, Blogger KB said...

Not to pressure you or anything... :)


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