Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Ride of Rewriting

by Stephanie Black

Yay and hooray, I’ve finished the first draft of my new suspense novel. It doesn’t have a working title yet. Maybe one will come to me as I work on the second draft, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Last time around I could not come up with a single working title that I loved (even after jotting down endless lists of possibilities, hoping something would spark), so I submitted the book under a generic yawner of a title. Thank heavens Covenant has an expert team of title-maker-uppers, because I think Fool Me Twice is a rockin’ good title and perfect for the novel. I have great faith that they can think up a fantastic title for my next book, even if I submit it as Creepy Suspense Story III: Rob’s Revenge.

My new manuscript is a very rough first draft—when I say “rough” I mean “completely incoherent,” but that’s what happens when you change critical backstory partway through a draft and don’t go back to make it consistent. I like to get to the end of a draft before I go back and make big changes. If I were to keep jumping backward to fix what I’ve already written, I’d not only slow my forward progress, but would possibly end up fixing things that would need to be fixed again once I reached the final pages and realized I’d made a mistake when I changed Mary from a schoolteacher to a professional assassin, and the whole assassin thread is actually kind of ludicrous, and it would work a lot better if Mary were Joe’s ex-girlfriend instead of his sister-in-law, and—

My method of drafting would probably give an organized person hives, but it works for me. It would be impossible for me to map out the details of my story so thoroughly that I could write a first draft so good that it required only minor revision before it was ready to submit. I know some writers can do that (hi, Sariah!) and I think they are brilliant, but my small and scrambled brain has to write the story to find the story. It will take multiple drafts for me to clarify the confusion and weave all the story threads into the tapestry. I do need to know where the story is going before I can write a draft—I can’t do the “sit down in front of a blank screen and see where my characters take me” kind of writing that some authors use to create wonderful stories. That’s not enough for me—I need more direction. But I’ll only find the complete depth and breadth and twists and turns of the story in rewriting.

This is fine by me, because I love rewriting. I love it much more than drafting. I love having a manuscript to work with, no matter how messy. Instead of a blank screen and an empty file, I now have 84K words to get me moving. I love working with a novel and watching it improve. It’s exciting to see a story blossoming from that scraggly first draft.

What kind of writer are you? Are you passionate about first drafts and find rewriting tedious? Or, like me, do you love the revision process? Approximately how many drafts of a novel do you usually do before submitting it?

And, when I go to Costco this morning, should I give in and buy those giant muffins or should I be good and buy twenty pounds of carrots instead? On second thought, don't answer that.


At 4/16/2008 1:07 PM, Blogger Worldbuilder Robin said...

Well, I'm still rewriting my first novel, but it sounds like my approach is very similar to yours, Stephanie. I usually start with the beginning and the ending, and a rough idea of what happens in between, but I need to write the story to find out what that "between" stuff is. I also can't seem to just let the characters write the story like so many authors seem to do.

My biggest problem is fluctuating between "toss out the whole thing and start over" and "what I've got is good; just change a word or two" thoughts when rewriting. Finding a happy medium between the two is, I'm discovering, the joy and pain of rewrites. Fortunately, my wife in reading my second draft and writing copious notes on how to improve the third draft. I'll have to see how that goes (I did mention that this is my first novel, right?).

Oh, and I know you said not to answer this, but buy both the muffins and the carrots. I speak from experience when I say you'll regret not buying the muffins, if for no other reason than a quick "breakfast." And if you have Costco muffins instead of the (inferior) Sam's Club muffins, so much the more reason to get them. I'm just sayin'...

At 4/16/2008 2:10 PM, Blogger Tristi Pinkston said...

Muffins. Definitely muffins.

At 4/16/2008 2:24 PM, Blogger Christine Thackeray said...

Thank you! I've read about calendaring stories and outlining chapters and tried but it almost killed the passion of the scenes I wanted. I'm going back to my love, just writing and letting the characters decide how they are going to get out of the mess they got themselves into.

At 4/16/2008 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carrot cake for sure. Then you can claim you're eating your veggies.

Two thoughts on re-writing came to mind when I read your blog, Stephanie. The first is that knowing the ending really helps me write the opening. For me all that foreshadowing and "including-the end-in-the-beginning" only happens when the end has been "figured out".

Second, I rewrite like you. If I know the ending, I can write the beginning. Everything in the middlde is discovery. Certainly I know the over-arching storyline and the character details/descriptions for the middle section (what all those stuffy writing instructors call the second act), but the details of plot are discovered as I write. When I outline, I know exactly what will happen through the entire novel before I begin. That is a comforting way to begin, but it also may limit my creativity. When I write the "middle" of my novel without knowing the details beforehand, the efficiency I give up is many times rewarded by the increased inventiveness and creativity promoted by discovery.

When I write a chapter I figure out the purpose of the chapter--the main story element that is going to be told in that chapter. As I write I figure out the dramatic details. Once disovered, the dramatic details don't change much. However I do find out, during re-writing, that there are a multitude of other, possibly more compelling ways to write those details. Sometimes a different setting helps enahnce the dramatic details. Sometimes changing the point of view character increases the emotional impact of those details. Sometimes adding or deleting characters is the right change. Sometimes the drama of the scene demands the insertion of an intersecting plot line. Sometimes the newly discovered dramatic details scream ut for a dialouge scene where there was none, a bit of action where before there was none, or a new twist to the plot.

Whatever the changes in rewriting, they usually begin after we've discovered the dramatic details of the scene. And that discovery usually happens during the writing of the first draft thought sometimes those pesky details reamain hidden until I get into the rewriting which is another name for writers block. Which, I suppose, makes revelation (the uncovering of something) the opposite of writer's block.

Disovery is the starting point for rewriting. Once I've finally discovered all the important details of plot, I'm read to go back and figure out the voice, POV, setting and characters that really make the scene sizzle.

Am I slightly coherent here at all?

Hope all your rewriting is filled with sizzle and your first draft is full of discovery.

All the best,

David G. Woolley

At 4/16/2008 4:36 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I'm a lot like you, it sounds like. I need a general idea of where I'm going and how I'll get there, but the magic happens in the rewriting. I love revisions because, as you said, there's stuff to work with--it's not a blank screen staring at you. I can take something that's there and make it better.

But by the time I've been through ten revisions, four edits, and three proofs before it goes to press, I'm ready to torch it. My love of revision only goes so far.

Oh, and the answer to your question--it's Costco's giant chocolate cake. Silly.

At 4/16/2008 4:59 PM, Blogger Laura said...

Hmm. . .I'm surprised you love revising. I just got a list of changes from an editor (the suggestions amount to a massive rewrite) and I'm a little overwhelmed and discouraged. It's a nonfiction book, so maybe it's different, the element of surprise with character development is missing. . . anyway, maybe since you all love it so much I'll survive it too. Who knows, maybe I'll even end up loving it!

And, I'm sure my two cents don't matter on this issue, but if it were me I'd buy the muffins and the carrots. Eat the muffins because they taste so sinfully good and then eat the carrots as penance.

At 4/17/2008 1:59 AM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Thank you, everyone, for the comments. It's fun to learn how other writers work.

I bought muffins and carrots :)

Worldbuilder, good luck with your revisions! I lost count of how many times I revised my first novel--but it was a LOT of times. I won't tell you how many years it took me . . .

Laura, I've never written a non-fiction book so I don't know how the rewriting differs, but I hope it turns out to be a rewarding experience!

David, I like the your use of the word "sizzle." That's what I'm hoping for--lots of sizzle in rewriting!

At 4/17/2008 2:04 AM, Blogger Crystal Liechty said...

Glad to know I'm not the only one who's first drafts are incoherent. My only problem is I'm so disgusted with them I have a hard time revising... muffins, you say?

At 4/17/2008 2:47 PM, Blogger Stacy Gooch Anderson said...

I admire the fact that despite being incoherent, you attack the keyboard! That in its self takes guts.....

O to almost 85,000 words! Just the thoughts of it makes my head hurt.

At 4/17/2008 10:02 PM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I'm so impressed that you can do it the way you do it, Stephanie.

Although we will have to make sure we never work on a project together. We'd probably kill each other. And not in a good fictiony way. ;)

At 4/17/2008 11:15 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Good point, Sariah!

At 4/18/2008 9:42 AM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...


Oh my "heck"--you just finished writing a book. Carrots should be outlawed if you are even considering that as a reward!

At 4/18/2008 12:15 PM, Blogger Stephanie Black said...

Don't worry--I would never buy carrots as a reward! A reward has to involve chocolate or cheesecake. Or both.


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