Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It's All About the Rewrites...

I've been busy lately with a lot of new contacts thanks to this blog and Facebook.  I'm also on Twitter these days, though I don't Tweet a lot.  At least not yet.  I resisted Twitter and doing a blog for some time, because I didn't think I'd have a lot to say.  But it seems that I do.  My biggest challenge is not blogging too often, for fear I'll run out of good topics.  That and the fact that I'll be heading back to college at the end of this month.  I don't want to suddenly cut back on my readers, that would seem unfair and inconsiderate.  And I know I can keep up with doing 2 entries a week while I'm studying.  Especially since there seems to be a lot to do when it comes to blogging, at least for me.  I always write my entry and then let it sit for a while.  Then I'll come back and look it over, do some cutting, pasting, and  rewriting before finally posting it.  

All of this holds true for writing in general.  When I completed the first draft of my novel, I hit the word count tool and was shocked.  The count was 190,000 words.  Yes, you read correctly 190,000 words.  I didn't think I knew that many words.  My first thought was, 'Please tell me this thing has gone banana-wackies on me.'  Sadly, it hadn't.  So I knew it needed some serious editing and rewriting.  Little did I know I was about to take my first journey down that infamous, and really long path, known as the learning curve.

I started looking up guidelines at my local library where I was nearly kicked out for gasping too loud.  Okay, there might have been some colorful language involved too.  But only because I knew I'd read books that are 300-400 pages by authors like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Peter Straub and others.  So what was wrong with me doing something really long?  But then I went back to their earliest works and realized, they didn't start out that way.  You have to be a solid, established, best-selling author to get away with books that long.  Remember, you're an unknown quantity from a publisher's point of view.  They take a bit of a gamble on every book they put out and they want good sales in return.  And they're putting the money out to make those books a reality.

Eventually, I went back to my novel to see where I could do some cutting.  Lo and behold I found where I had repeated important ideas and plot points in several different places.  Can you say redundant?  I knew you could.

This is why we need to go over our work when it's finished.  Unless you're at it everyday and can somehow keep track of all the points and facts you've already put down, this can happen.  I was at this novel on and off for months, so it was bound to happen.  I just never realized how many times it did.  So I began my rewrite by eliminating those mistakes.  But, I was careful to keep the key elements and information where they had the most impact.   I also removed scenes and concepts that were interesting, but not essential to the overall plot.

So now I had it down to 123,500 words.  Yay me.  I started querying and doing more research.  I found out yesterday that the acceptable word count for a brand new author is usually between 80,000-100,000 words.  I took this news with dignity and good humor... eventually.

After an hour of uncontrollable sobbing (remember my previous entry on not dwelling on the bad stuff for too long), I got out of the corner and dusted myself off.  Then, I headed over to the closet and pulled out hockey mask and a chainsaw.  Yes, I know Jason Vorhees doesn't use a chainsaw but it just felt right on this occasion. 

So, now it's time for more rewriting.  Luckily, it doesn't involve the Prologue and first chapter that is waiting to be looked over by the nice agent I've mentioned in my earlier posts.  I already have some good ideas where to cut and what characters and events should have less screen time. 

HOWEVER... (sorry for the capitals but I feel this point is important).  I am not going to just delete those scenes or toss them in the trashcan on my laptop.  I created a folder for the items I remove from my novels to preserve them.  Just because they aren't necessary or working for this particular book, doesn't mean they're useless.  Change the names or situations and you've got a ready-made scene for another storyline.  You might even get an idea for an entire story from those fragments.  And the only space they're taking up is a tiny bit of memory on your computer.  I've even kept the earlier drafts of my novel before the cutting began.  I find it important to be able to see where it started and whether or not I kept to the spirit of my original concept.  

So you can see how rewrites can actually help you avoid costly mistakes and even give you the basis for future novels.  It can be hard work, but it can also mean the difference between getting that agent or that publishing deal we're all chasing after.  I've even found that by shortening my work, the story flows more smoothly and the tension mounts faster.  This allows the book to get a good hold on the reader's imagination.  One of the best compliments I got from one of my Beta-Readers (see previous entry on those folks) was that she didn't like reading my novel at night.  Because she wanted to actually go to sleep and knew she'd have a hard time putting it down.

Now it's time to put my hockey mask back on, oil up the chainsaw, and get to my own rewrite.  And remember, writing is a lot of work.  But it's worth it in the end.

Oh, and if you're wondering what genre I write in, I'm afraid I have a hard time classifying it myself.  What do you call a novel involving a reluctant psychic, a 16 year old mystery, scenes of horror with a sci-fi twist thrown in towards the end?  If you figure it out, please leave a post and let me know, because I'm having a difficult time explaining it to agents.  And you need to know what genre you're working in, before you start sending out queries.  But that's a subject for another entry some other day.