Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Tweaking and Shadowing

by Stephanie Black

I am amazed and awed by writers who create such coherent first drafts that they need to do only light revising before submitting a manuscript. I’d find it easier to rollerblade up Mt. Everest than to create something nearly publishable the first time I put fingers to keyboard. My outlines are rough—I know where the story is going, but not how to get there. The details will come to me as I write them, which means a lot of inconsistency in the first draft. Once the basic threads of the story are in place, I still need to do a lot of weaving—adding threads here, yanking threads there, weaving in new colors or patterns. Draft upon draft, the story grows richer and more textured until voila, I survey my manuscript and realize that this is nuts and I should have set my sights on a less complicated career. Like nuclear physics.

Actually, it is exciting and extremely satisfying to see a story developing. I’m currently nearing the end of the second draft of my contemporary suspense novel, which bears the snappy working title of novel3draft2. If anyone has any spare creepy titles sitting around—titles that connotes darkness or evil or betrayal or revenge or the traffic in Harvard Square—send them along. I'd like something to call this thing before I finish it. Of course, we didn’t pick a name for our oldest daughter until she was ten days overdue, so why rush it?

I’m figuring three drafts to get the story and pacing set and then a run-through to polish things up. It’s amazing how many details are involved in writing a novel. Here are some issues that have popped up lately: as the book nears the climax, the protagonist needs to, under extreme pressure, get to a certain location. This would not be a suitable time for leisurely perusal of a map (like, for instance, that time I was in labor, at midnight, in Boston—if you’ve ever driven in Boston, you can picture this—and we missed the hospital and I was trying to read a map, which I can’t do well under the best of circumstances, and did I mention I was in serious labor? Fortunately my husband has a much better sense of direction than I do, and no, I didn’t give birth in the minivan). Anyway, back to my character. Googling a map is also out of the question, but she’s only been in the area for a couple of weeks and has never been to this location. Ergo, I rewind and insert a bit in a much earlier scene that shows she’s studied a map of the area (and yes, she has a logical motive for doing so). I also tweak another spot to highlight her knowledge of the area. Problem solved! Foreshadowing ought to be called postshadowing when I do it.

Another hole to plug: the neighbor of the protagonist’s aunt becomes an impediment to the protagonist’s goal at a crucial moment as the climax approaches. Problem: we haven’t met the neighbor yet and I don’t just want to just pull him out of a hat for the needed scene. Solution: I find a likely spot earlier in the manuscript and send him strolling across the yard with a loaf of freshly baked bread and lots of friendly chatter for the protagonist. The friendly chatter is helpful because it makes it easy to slip in another bit of info that will be important later.

I was feeling good because I had only thirty pages left on my draft and things were going splendidly. Then as I was sitting in the dentist’s office—that veritable promised land of creativity—I realized that a character I needed on-scene at the climax would be something like twenty stinking minutes away. Whoops. But I can fix that issue without too much trouble. In fact, the tweaking may even add some additional tension and emotional shading, which would be delightful.

I love it when a plan comes together.


At 10/25/2006 1:46 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

I've got your title, Stephanie -- "Darkness and Evil and Betrayal and Revenge Amidst the Traffic in Harvard Square."

That beats my current project "Roses and Fluffy Bunnies in Vietnam" all to heck.

At 10/25/2006 3:26 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Tristi, it's brilliant! Snappy and memorable.

I'll be first in line to buy your book when it comes out--talk about an interesting concept!

At 10/25/2006 4:03 PM, Blogger KB said...

Tristi, no one will every say, "I read this cool book but can't remember the title..." about that one! But I'm guessing your publisher will change it. Darn those medding publishers!

At 10/25/2006 11:24 PM, Blogger Keith Fisher said...

just off the top of my head how's this?

When Darkness envelopes the light

well maybe not.

At 10/26/2006 12:52 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Hey, thanks, Keith. I like the encroaching darkness idea.

At 10/26/2006 11:57 AM, Blogger Mean Aunt said...

ACK! Harvard Square traffic!! I'm having post-traumatic stress flashbacks.

Must go lie down. . .


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