Nights like this are equally wonderful and cringe-worthy. I can (occasionally) create a large amount of wordage during in a short time. It might not be my best work, but it will be interesting to read the next day. Most of the time, however, I use this time to reflect. Not on my life, for which I have no regrets, or my current situation. I reflect on characters. Let my mind wander. This, btw, was something I picked up from my drama teacher years ago.
Most of the time I see a book as though I’m watching a movie. No joke. I’ve chatted with plenty of writers over the years, and I have to say that there are as many ways to write as there are stars in the sky. I won’t judge your way. Don’t judge mine. If it’s working, I’m not changing.
I put characters in situations, desperate ones usually, and I let them go through their normal reactions. If they’re acting out of character, my mind will freeze, kind of like pause. I’ll sit and figure out why. Most of the time it’s an easy fix. I get to know my characters this way. Other times, I’ll think about a story I’m working on and trek down the plot trail poking holes at all the inconsistencies and silly things I tend to put in my books.
Sometimes I’ll let a story idea spin out in my mind. If I can clearly see the end, it’s something I jot down for later. Otherwise they slip through my mind like favorite commercials or songs. Most of the time I won’t remember those bits, but if I do…I know it’s a keeper.
So what am I reflecting on tonight? I’m in the middle of an awesome story for my Changeling editor (A Familiar Kiss). I wrote the novella, and everything about it seemed wrong. The characters, situation, and relationships were crammed in 25k. Everything seemed rushed. So last night I sat down with a notebook and pen (old school, right? ), and jotted down a few questions.
- How many characters do I have in this book? Answer: 10. In a 25k novella? There’s a problem…
- Where does the book drag? Answer: Chapters 1, 2, 5, 7, 11
- What don’t I like about the book? Answer: The character introduction at the beginning of chapter one. It bugs me. I don’t want her best friend there, but I need him to be involved. He just doesn’t seem to add anything to the initial scenes.
- What are my key plot points AND in what chapters do they happen? (ooooo. Asking those writerly questions! Don’t groan. You’re gonna like this. Promise ).
So what does this mean (I wish I had my scanner)?
Well…I wrote each chapter number down on a legal pad. Then I set up three columns.
Stars were put next to chapters 1, 2, 5, 7, and 11.
1st column: I went through the book and wrote down which characters made an appearance in each chapter. Chapter one had four characters (hero, heroine, best friend, villain sidekick). Chapter two had five characters (hero, heroine, best friend, healer, bodyguard). Chapter five, seven, and eleven had more than five characters. The rest of the chapters had three or less characters. Not necessarily the SAME characters, but three none-the-less.
2nd column: I wrote down key plot points for each chapter. Three things I paid attention to were
- Did each chapter begin with a hook to keep the reader’s interest? If so, what was it (just jot down the notes. It can be as vague or as specific as you like)?
- Was the plot point of the chapter strong enough to carry the story? Where did it fail? Did I have multiple plot points in one chapter?
- Pace and end of chapter climax. Was the pace consistent? Note where there were any snags. Does the chapter end in a climax of some type? Shock. Surprise. Awe. The point is to keep the reader intrigued enough to turn the page instead of setting aside the book or powering down the ereader to pick up later. If there is no climax at the end…note what the chapter DID end with.
So what did I find out? In my trouble chapters at least one of the three questions questions weren’t answered. At LEAST three. In one chapter all three questions weren’t answered. Ugh. No wonder I hated those chapters. I found that a few other chapters outside my trouble chapters needed work too. And that’s okay…here’s why:
3rd column: Here’s where we fix it using: A wish. Duct tape. Sweat. Those are the three things you’ll cover. Let me ‘splain.
- Go into this part as though you didn’t have to rewrite your book. As though you were in the middle of brainstorm sessions. Pretend that it’s not going to cause you heartache or stress. Just look at this as though it’s wishful thinking (I know I’ll be wishing someone else was rewriting the chapters. I hate rewriting far more than creating something new). Write down what you’d like to see happen. (Drop best friend out of this chapter, Ratchet up the sexual tension when blah blah)
- Now that you’ve made your wishful thinking list, you can compare it with what you already have. The best friend drink sharing moment at the beginning is going to have to go. Which leads us to the next part. Sweating it out.
- There’s no way to keep the best friend scene at the beginning. So I can salvage a great deal of the chapter, and in four sentences or less, let the readers know why she’s there. No large info-dump. No annoying flashbacks (I happen to not like writing them b/c they tend to take over my stories). So a six page scene involving the best friend becomes: Only Brandon’s desperate call would bring her out tonight. The slur in his voice told her he was already gone. Alcohol stopped the visions for a while, but they always came back with a vengeance. Magic was funny like that. Is it the best four sentences evah? Not yet. That’s what revisions are for. Remember, this is the rough draft. The initial chisel and hammer work on stone or marble. It’s not perfect. Just down on the paper. Make sure you do this for all the problem chapters in your ms.
For me, sweating it out is the hardest part of the equation. I absolutely hate cutting chunks of character out of my books, but like the surgical precision of competition One-Act-Plays, pace is vital to keeping audience interest.
So now I know where I need to cut, add stuff, and modify. That leaves me with a plan for tomorrow. And with that…I’m heading to bed.