February 22nd, 2016
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That’s iced tea not beer. Though if I drank beer, I totally could have used one.

It has been moons, fair readers. Like, a ridiculously long time. But I am sure you are all dying to know how The Ghost Story novel is coming along. Good news: IT’S COMING ALONG.

In November I took a class on revision at The Writer’s Loft in Sherborn, hosted by the delightful and talented Erin Dionne. I had grand plans to dive right into the revision process but that didn’t really work out. In all honesty, I barely did any real writing at all at the end of 2015… I read through my draft, made notes, did research, twiddled with outlines, notecards, and all the various tools Erin walked us through. I was scared, intimidated, and frankly, tired. A lot. And so, I didn’t get cracking on actual revision until January 2016.

The first week was wonderful and terrible. It felt good to be writing but I kept having existential moments of GAH WHAT IS THIS and HOW DO I FIX and OH THE FUTILITY. It took me two weeks to get through most of Chapter 1 and I thought: This will take forever. I have at least twenty-two chapters to go through. And this is just draft two. But I realized I just had to sharpen my scalpel. I have to be unforgiving and relentless with the writing, but forgiving and patient with myself. And that revising can contain just as much writing as it does cutting.

Authors have consistently said at events I’ve run/attended: “Oh yes, I had to cut the first 100 pages of my first draft” and it always made me blanch. How? Really? Impossible! Well…

For the numbers people, as of 2/18/16:
Number of writing days since revision began: 20
Chapters Revised: 6.5 (mostly)
Word Count (New Material): ~16,000 words (50 pg)
Word Count (Revised + new material): ~25,700 words (85 pg)
Word Count (Cut from 1st Draft): ~24,500 words (80 pg)
Current goal for 2nd Draft Completion: April 30, 2016 (then a month of “polishing” before off to beta readers)
Cups of tea consumed: Countless

Want to know what has needed the most revising?

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Plotting the Plotty Plot

PROBLEM: Plot is still not my strong suit. Draft 1 had a lot of plot holes and unanswered questions, even by the end. I thought figuring out where I wanted to go would be the solution (start with the ending) but that proved impossible, not knowing where the character’s motivations came from at the beginning.

PROBLEM 2: While writing the first draft, I would mentally make changes to earlier sections without rewriting them. Which meant reading through the entire first draft felt like dream-logic: sudden direction changes, revelations, and plot shifts that I understood because I wrote it but that no outside reader could follow without me sitting down and saying “Well, what I meant was…”

SOLUTION: Start at the beginning and think A LOT. Figure out what’s missing and where it should go. Be open to re-writing character’s histories and relationships again and again until everything follows both logically and emotionally. Write new scenes to fill the gaps. And write at it until something feels good.

What Genre Are We In?

PROBLEM: While my novel is ostensibly a fantasy – alternate world, ghosts, and reincarnation – it also contains a mystery (or two). My first draft didn’t acknowledge the true impact of the mystery until much too late in the story.

SOLUTION: Mysteries require certain elements: clues, red herrings, suspects. etc. and I didn’t have enough of any of these in the first half of my draft. So I am finding ways to add them in naturally, given what’s revealed later.

Which leads me to…

Pacing

PROBLEM: At Erin’s suggestion, I plotted out where major revelations/plot points fall in the arc of the story. I realized my story was back-heavy (bottom-heavy? end-heavy?) with all the major information revealed in the second act and then rapid-fire right at the end of the third. While this isn’t a bad thing, it told me there was a lot of unnecessary dawdling at the beginning. I didn’t get to the central mystery until Chapter 6… way too late.

PROBLEM 2: I also wrote out every scene in the book on a notecard color-coded to plot/theme and quickly noticed an imbalance. As you can see in the above photo, the first half is heavy in blue, green, purple, with some runs of yellow: themes of family, small ghost-related mystery, personal history, and big ghost-related mystery; the later half is more blue, pink, and yellow: family, religion/conflict, and big ghost-related mystery. Where did green and purple go? Where did pink begin? Why is yellow always clumped together?

SOLUTION: Cut much of the opening chapters and stopped being cagey with information. I let my narrator talk to people and discover clues. I’ve hinted at later plot points/themes earlier. Now I’m afraid I have too much information in the first six chapters. The mystery is introduced full-force in Chapter 2 (with better hints in Chapter 1) and each chapter there after gives you a little more. It’s getting better.

Tone

PROBLEM: The first act of the book felt distinctly different in tone from the second and third acts. I realized this was because of 1) a lack of action and 2) the use of lots of lengthy “interlude” flashbacks.

PROBLEM 2: I love me some flashbacks.

SOLUTION: Cut all but the barest minimum of flashbacks. Cut lots of the scenery and setting. Pull big questions and tantalizing clues to the first section.

NEW PROBLEM: Implying characters have history without a detailed flashback is hard. And cutting all that setting leaves me with lots of stark scenes and dialogue, neither of which are my strength. This is where I mutter to myself: “Draft 3 Problems, Draft 3 problems…”

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