Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good. Better. Best.

When we write, we always have to start with a good story. If you don't have a good story, no amount of amazing prose will help. To that end, once you have a good story, you start massaging it into something better. One way to do this is through the use of strong verbs and nouns. For instance, I might change that last sentence in this manner: A unique way to accomplish this is by incorporating strong verbs and nouns. It's basically the same sentence it just uses better words.

Where am I going with this? I want to use the idea of strong verbs and nouns as a metaphor for revision. When you feverishly begin writing your story out, you think, "This is perfect as it is. There's no way I'll need to revise this." All I can say to you is think again. The revision process is about making good better and better best.

When I wrote 13th Summer, I started out with what I felt was a good story. I really didn't think I'd need to do any revisions except for maybe typos and grammar. That changed fairly quickly. The first thing I had to do was get rid of a flashback in chapter 2. Simply put, flashbacks can work, but the chances of a first time author having a book published that uses flashback to do an info dump are pretty much nil. I rewrote the beginning and was pretty well satisfied that this would be it. Okay, not so much. I ended up having issues with my protagonist's vocabulary and worldliness. Basically, a seventh grader isn't going to use dollar words when a quarter word will suffice. He's also not going to have wisdom beyond his years. Okay, so... more revisions.

Of course, within the process, you can sit on the manuscript for a year and a half or so. That may or may not help.

Was that long enough? Hmmm... sit a bit more.

Okay, so after you've sat on it, you read it as if you're reading a book. Hmmm, yeah, not so bad. Good story. Still works. Humorous parts still make me laugh, sad parts still make me get a lump in my throat. So far so good. Let's let my wife read it.

Insert tumult and chaos, agreement and disagreement. No, this is MY manuscript, I'm not changing it. Okay, maybe that's a good idea, I might change it. *Sigh* Okay. That's actually a really good idea, I'll incorporate it. Did I mention this was the same idea all the way through? The point is, listen to your reader.

Once you've incorporated changes based on the feedback of your reader, you've probably taken a good story to the next level and made it better. Reread it and ask yourself this question: Are my characters doing things that they would do? Are they believable? Do they work? A week ago, I was at this point. I had, what I felt, was a very good story and it was well written. During this time, my wife had questioned one of the characters. At the time, I liked this character and I wanted to keep him in the story. Plus, re-writing without him would kind of suck. This late in the game, I'm ready to move on. I want to get this manuscript out and see if I can get an agent. I don't want to take the character out. I argue for him. In the end, I read the manuscript again and imagined that it didn't have the character in it. What I found was that without the character, the story was the same and the dialogue would be less complicated. If this ever happens to you, ditch the character, you'll thank me... no, you'll thank my wife in the end.

After I had taken the character out, I was able to change the first chapter. The action kicked into a bit of a higher gear and the very beginning of the story became more believable. During this time, I was also able to find a solution to something near the end of the book that was okay, and worked, but wasn't quite right.

I think there are three lessons to be learned from this. The first is that when you write, it works that muscle that sits between your ears and it helps kickstart the creative process. This allowed me to find a solution to something that was bothersome at the end of the book and it made a good story better. The second thing that I think is important is that you absolutely must listen to your reader and be open to suggestion. Keep in mind that your reader has to be able to be honest with you. Be open to what he or she will tell you, mull it over, disagree with it if you have to, but think about it and reread your story and imagine the suggestions that your reader has made are incorporated. The third thing is to reread your manuscript. Again and again.

I'm very pleased with the results that I've gotten from the rewrites that I've done and I think the manuscript is hovering somewhere between better and best. So, I'm off to reread it.

That's all for now.

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