Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

When In Doubt, Throw Everything Out and Start Over


WriteOnCon was an intense ride.  I learned so much in such a short period (3 days!).  Top that off with the final for my intensive summer class (as of Thursday I am officially class-free for two weeks!), and my already slushy mind simply melted into sticky sugar water.  I'm still trying to piece everything together and make sense of it.

One post (series) that impacted me from the conference was from agent Weronika Janczuk (and if I didn't love her from her posts, I would because her name is Polish!) on pacing and plotting—click here for part 1, part 2, and part 3.  I focused on her descriptions of plot arcs, what should happen in the first 1/4, the middle 1/2, and the last 1/4 of the novel, how to build tension, etc., etc., and applied it to my current painful revisions of WiP #1.

I'm not willing to admit that my first round for WiP #1 didn't somewhat conform to the formula set forth in these posts.  It did.  But I believe it can be better.  Scratch that.  While it does conform to the increasing tension and tight climax in the last 10%, it's a mediocre story at best, and a complete overhaul will help it shine.

Add to Weronika's posts this vlog by author Kimberly Derting.  I don't write YA thriller/suspense, but that doesn't mean there aren't ample lessons in this vlog on how to build suspense that can be applied to any genre.  As I contemplated Kimberly's words with Weronika's echoing in my sugary mind, ideas of suspense-building mingled with my pondering of story arcs, and I realized, huh, this could be more suspenseful.

My story is told in 1st person (for now).  In the "original" story, my MC finds out some key information less than halfway through the story.  I realized I could increase the suspense by delaying her discovery.  I've been outlining for a couple of days now a complete overhaul of the story, trying to put the events in a proper order to delay discovery, continually increase the tension, and raise the stakes in the climax.

Finally, I'd like to throw into the mix this post from Helen Ginger's post on the Blood Red Pencil—Writers are Hookers.  Beyond the inevitable giggle this invokes in me (yeah, even a few days later), she makes a beautiful point about where the story (and each scene) needs to begin.  After reviewing my first 4-6 chapters for over a month now, I'm almost willing to throw out the first two chapters.  They are mostly background information, and I know that.  I hesitate because I feel like it's important, but we all know that this information can be incorporated later.  And some of it has been moved through recent, pre-overhaul revisions, meaning that leaving it upfront is redundant.

To risk getting a little weepy, part of my hesitation in the complete overhaul is strongly personal.  This story began as a part of my recovery process after my father passed away.  While a strong part of me yearns to be professional and know what needs to get slashed and burnt to make this puppy publishable, deep down I want to leave it, considering it a sacred tribute to my dad.  It's a little silly—my father's nowhere to be seen in the entire story—but that doesn't stop the emotional connection and the need to protect my baby from the red-line.

What I've decided, based on this final post by Jennifer Hubbard, is that I don't have to throw anything away.  (Okay, I knew that, but it's nice to have the reinforcement.)  I can keep the sacred version of my story, the one that makes me think of my struggle and my progress in recovery, and I don't have to share it with anyone but myself.  I can love it and baby it and wrap it in a huge security blanket and save it from the big, bad publishing world forever.  But I can also take the bones, the deep structure (Snicker, GB linguistics out there! Snicker!), the character histories, etc., and weave them together with this new and improved baby, one that I'm willing to raise and help mature into an undeniable force to be reckoned with in the brutal publishing industry.  I'll teach it not to take criticism personally—my baby could never learn that.  I'll mold it into a giant who will box its way onto the desk of an agent, causing said agent to swoon.  After rebandaging its fearsome hands, stopping the bloody nose and tending to its swollen lip, it will be ready to move from the agent's desk to that of the publishers, who will also love and adore it...

Man, am I getting ahead of myself!  I haven't done anything more than work on the outline.  I need to stop daydreaming and get to work.

How do you feel when you have to start over?  The more seasoned writers out there must not do this as often, but I know we have all done it at one point or another.  Have you ever coddled something despite its disrepair?  How long did it take you to admit that some work had to move permanently onto the shelf?


The Alliterative Allomorph said...

I feel ratshit :o( my first novel was re-written five times. I'm pretty sure there isn't even one original sentences left in it! It's just gotta happen, unfortunately.

Are you a writer? Then you MUST enter this CONTEST!

Boonsong said...

I enjoyed this. Thanks for posting it.

All the best, Boonsong

Maria said...

The advice on pacing and plotting sounds great and really helpful! I think that even when you rework your story it should still be the story you want it to be, not what you think an agent would want to read. Continue to write for yourself and don't worry about the audience. You will do great! Enjoy the 2 week break. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

I thought Write On Con was awesome too.

The thing with these experts, is you can get conflicting advice. Even a critique group will often make different suggestions. Take it all in and go with your gut.

Now I'm on the way to Helen's blog to see why I'm like a hooker.

Summer Ross said...

You have clearly been busy. I wish you the best of luck in revisions. I have an entire 36 chapter novel that is two chapter from finished that I wrote over 8yrs ago now. I will never finish it for sentimental reason that go with my mother. It will never see publishing, it will never leave my side, it will however collect dust on the shelf until I'm ready to read it again, but I will cuddle it...nothing will happen to the entire thing.

RosieC said...

AA, that's the direction mine is heading. *sigh* I'll let you know when they let me out of the ER from beating my head against the wall.

Boonsong, my pleasure :)

Maria, it will still be my story, just with more build-up. Don't worry, but it won't look like anything you read last year :)

Theresa, WriteOnCon was so fabulous. I feel super lucky to have been involved in it.

PS--Helen's post isn't on her blog...

Summer, busy's a good word. Thank you. I also have plenty of other work that will never see the light of day and that I will continue to coddle. The thing is that, while I want to coddle and baby the original of this story, the fact that I got inspiration at a crucial point, and I want to dedicate the whole thing to my dad. If I let it sit and collect dust, I can never share my tribute with anyone but the circuitry of my computer. As long as you're happy leaving your work on the shelf, and as long as you don't forget about it and love it again, it will continue to love you back.

Hart Johnson said...

I am definitely going to check out your links. I feel like I can call myself seasoned on the WRITING end, but not the rewriting and revising. I have hammered through about 6 drafts of my first WiP but it isn't ready... I have 5 books waiting patiently (2 of which are not even typed) for me to GET there, and the Cozy that HAS to be made right.

I am hoping the cozy (because mystery is far more formulaic than 'suspense' will teach me how to finally hammer it into order. I have faith--the main plot reveal is good... it is just the 'increase the tension here, reinforce the motive for the killer there'. I am actually really eager to get BACK to one of my suspense ones, as they've been sitting a while and I've learned a bunch, but... deadline...

Good luck with your process (and yes--keep the first--the process is valuable and when you are rich and famous, somebody may offer a lot to have your 'first draft')

RosieC said...

Hart, I don't think I would ever let anyone lay their hands on the first draft, money or no. I'm not really willing to let the whole thing go public. I'd be too embarrassed by the writing.

It's nice to know that I'm not alone in the process (I didn't think that, but it's still nice to hear). Good luck with the Cozy revisions. Your deadline is coming up soon, isn't it?

Jemi Fraser said...

Starting over stinks! I have a hard time letting go too, but saving and labelling each draft with a different version name made it easier. It's still there. I've never looked at it again, but it's there just in case. :)

WriteOnCon was the BEST!

Enjoy your 2 weeks of freedom :)

RosieC said...

Jemi, yeah, tell me about it! I do have a new title for it, which I think is helping. And I won't delete the original. Maybe a locked file drawer somewhere... :)

Jennie Bailey said...

Rosie, you gave some GREAT links! My head is still spinning from WriteOn and I don't know how in the heck I missed the series by Weronika Janczuk but I am forever in your debt for posting it.

I hate cutting. It's like I can feel the trim in my own skin. My last rewrite, I changed a part of my story significantly. It was hard to let go of a character and I had to gingerly poke through the manuscript to pull any trace of her out. She really had to go. It's much stronger now. But it was hard. I spent one whole week holding onto her with both hands like my two year old nephew with his favorite toy. Tears, floor pounding, tempertantrum. Then I let go. What really helps me is creating a new file - Save As. I love Save As. Because the old version is still there safe. It won't see an agent or editors desk, but it's right there on my computer desktop for me to enjoy anytime I want to.

Anonymous said...

Woah, woah, woah! A lot of links here. *Quickly bookmarks them all for future reference and readings.*

This was a very informative piece! Thanks for all the links and you're right about how some things should be shelved away because they serve no purpose for the book.

It's hard to give up something that you love and put so much effort to, but it must be done for the betterment of your novel, your work.

I'm sure you can use whatever you pushed off to the side in another story.

Great post and write on!

RosieC said...

Jennie, no debt owed whatsoever. I'm more than happy to share the info. We all need it and can benefit from it in countless ways. It sounds like it was pretty tough for you to cut that character. I know when I get to WiP #2 I'm going to have the same problem, and I'm not looking forward to it. But I agree, save as different file names and protect the old one forever :)

Vatche, you're welcome. I'm not sure about using some of the stuff in other novels, and a lot of it will be recycled in the rewrites in one form or another, so maybe it is, depending on the perspective. Thanks for the encouragement :)

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