Monday, January 02, 2012

Rewriting your novel...

Welcome to 2012. Every year, I come back to this blog, with every intention of updating it on a regular basis... here I am again, in what has become a January 2nd tradition. This year has been really good to me, and I'm hoping I will be able to carry some of that through to this blog. As far as my writing goes, it has truly been a banner year. I self published my first novel, which made it to the semi-finals of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, co-wrote an award winning script for the local 48hr film competition, had a short story published in a steampunk anthology, and was for the first time a guest at a local sci-fi convention.

Currently I'm working on pitching a few articles to, Finishing this years NaNoWriMo novel (The November gods really had it in for me this year), and most importantly rewriting and editing my second novel.

Recently my NaNoWriMo compatriots Shannon and Suzie started blogs about the process of the rewrite. Both of them have been there for me through the good and bad of my NaNo attempts, and are looking to make the leap to pro. When they looked for some advice on the internet about how to go about turning their rough drafts into literary gold, they found that there was little to no info about the process of rewriting. Well, I decided that for the next few weeks I will share my process as I work to bring my second novel to press.

Part 1) Looking over the rough draft

The most important thing for anyone to do with their freshly minted rough draft (such as the smoldering pile of 50,000 words that comes out the other end of NaNoWriMo) is to put it away for a while. That's right... lock your baby in a closet for at least a month, preferably two. Don't look at it, don't think about it, don't so much as smell it until you've done something else to pull you away from it. When you're no longer looking at several pounds of blood, and tears placed upon a divine anvil and hammered by the gods themselves into 'your greatest work made manifest' anymore, but instead a story that was written by a mere mortal on way too much caffine and with the kids screaming in the next room, you're ready to begin again. You start by reading it with a notepad next to you.

I warn you, it will be ugly. There will be huge tracts of it that are nothing but literary vomit. But on the flip side there will be parts that are absolutely brilliant, making you wonder if magic elves came and added to your word count in the middle of the night. It's important to remember at this point that you're not here to judge yet.

As you read over the manuscript, here is what to ask yourself, and make notes on your notepad where applicable, but RESIST THE URGE TO REWRITE UNTIL YOU HAVE READ THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT AT LEAST ONCE!!!:

1) Are there any gaping holes in the plot?
2) Are there any unintentional loose ends?
3) Are there any scenes that simply don't move the plot forward?
4) Does the story have the tone I want it to, and does it say what I wanted it to say?

Now go back and address these issues one at a time.

For the manuscript I'm working on (the sequel to Dimensional Games), I noticed a few things during this initial reading... There a was a device I introduced to the story that could have allowed the hero to easily dispatch the bad guys by pushing a button. I fixed this by making the thing impractical, with a huge amount of time between usages for recharge. I also had two "what the hell was I thinking here?" scenes that while funny, introduced characters and plot points that went absolutely nowhere. It broke my heart to lose the jokes, but I eliminated them completely. The last thing I found that I had to work on was much harder to fix... the tone of the book was all wrong.

Dimensional Games and its sequel take place in a science fiction multiverse that at its heart, is supposed to be absurdly funny. It took me a while to figure out why the next book wasn't really as funny to me, but eventually I realized that it all came down to the opening chapter... To demonstrate what I'm talking about, close your eyes and think of the opening of your favorite movie... what do you see?

One of my favorite movies is the Cannonball Run. The first minute of the movie is filled with two hot girls in a European sports car making cops look stupid as they try in vein to catch them. This pretty much continues throughout the entire film. Any James Bond movie will open with oo7 in some exotic locale flirting with a beautiful woman, while foiling a villainous plan to take over the world before returning to MI6 for his next assignment, which will involve beautiful women, action, and a plot to take over the world.

Your opening chapter is like the first minutes of a movie. It will tell your reader (and if you have aspirations of publication, the editors reading your manuscript) what to expect from your book for the next three hundred or more pages.

The problem with the original opening to the manuscript I'm working on is that the tone was all wrong... It had my hero in a very dark place (nearly getting killed in action), and was simply too serious for the tone I wanted my book to have. I dumped it and wrote a new opening from scratch, trying to make it lighthearted, while still revealing the important plot points that the original opening made. It completely turned the story around.

If you want to, you can go back now and edit for grammar, spelling, etc... in preparation for the next step. Letting others (shudder) read it.

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