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How I’ll spend my Christmas Vacation

December 14, 2013

Revising.

Photo copyright 2013 Leah Givens, used by permission

A professional writers’ group during a critique session. Photo by Leah Givens, used by permission.

After a lovely session with the WUTA crowd (see picture), I need to make some changes to the current manuscript–Sleep of the Unjust is the working title–before I send it along to my agent. That is the point of critique groups, after all. I’m also taking into account suggestions and comments from beta readers outside the group; as wonderful as WUTA is, science fiction is a bit of a weak spot in our portfolio, and I wanted some folks I know are as steeped in it as myself to let me know if I screwed something up.

Of course, my agent will have his own take on it. His direction on the first faerie noir novel was very strong, and the rewrite there resulted in dramatic improvement…but with all of this external input, it’s easy to ask how much of the end product is wholly mine.

Fair question.  I believe there is a world of difference between “hey, why don’t you add this?” and the actual process of grafting an idea seamlessly into an existing whole, but from the outside, that process is less visible. Here is a streamlined version of the stages by which it happens:

Initial Review

Do I like the idea? What works for someone else may leave me cold and vice versa. If a suggestion doesn’t click with me at all, how am I going to sell it to my readers?

Does the idea fit within the context of the rest of the project? As I’ve said many times, a rose in a corn field is a weed. Some ideas are extremely cool…in another story.

Does the idea fix a problem or merely improve something already working? With things like plot holes, unexplained character changes, or other large-scale faux pas, there’s no question as to what to do–you correct the mistake, no matter what the cost in time or energy. When you’ve got a piece that works okay, and someone suggests a way to make it better, you have to do some calculus, which consists of…

How many other changes will this change require to make it work? This really comes down to the limited lifespan we have on this planet, and how one chooses to make use of one’s allotted time. Sometimes a suggestion can be woven into the existing story with little disruption; other times it’s like pulling on a thread and having the garment unravel. A suggestion that takes an aspect of the story from merely adequate to whoa! rates more time and effort than one that merely bumps up something from good to better.  I probably wouldn’t rewrite ten chapters to make one scene perfect if the scene was good to start with…but I’d rewrite one.

Implementation

This is the actual, you know, writing part. Or rewriting, rather. And it’s more than just cutting and pasting and typing and swearing and drinking. The scope of something like a new scene is often more than a simple insertion, for example. If the new scene tells the reader something heretofore hidden about a character, that character probably should not have done something two scenes earlier that make the reveal superfluous, or illogical, or emotionally jarring in a undesirable way. Don’t write a new scene that reveals Amy is risk averse when she’s spent the previous five chapters as a barnstorming pilot…unless somehow you can make it fit (perhaps Amy tries to compensate by taking no chances emotionally or financially; perhaps she’s so inured to flying in loops she doesn’t consider it risk anymore, but won’t eat under-cooked meat because people get sick that way).

And don’t even get me started on a Point of View shift. Talk about something that sounds easy to do *until* it’s on paper…

Review

Did the rewrite work? Did it do what you wanted without doing something you didn’t want? Does someone else think so, such as the person who suggested it, or someone who’s not read any of it? That last test is important, and one of the reasons I like keeping a beta reader in reserve until after I’ve done the “last” revision: so someone who’s not aware there are seams has a chance to spot them.

Anyway, I’ve now spent a couple of hours writing this up instead of getting to it. Bad me, no biscuit.

By the way–I’ve updated the links on the “Read My Stuff” page to reflect the updated Untreed Reads store. Let me know if any are broken, okay?

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