Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What I Learned from Rewriting my Novel

I spent December rewriting my novel, Going Through the Change. It's at a publisher's right now, being considered (they asked for the full manuscript!) so maybe soon I'll be able to tell you where to go to buy it.

Going Through the Change is my second complete novel. So, I've now been through the whole-book rewrite process twice.  Here's what I learned:

1. Each novel is its own puzzle.You can't put this one together the same way you did another.

I felt like I learned so much from writing and rewriting my first novel, His Other Mother. For example: how to structure a novel that featured a lot of internal conflict in such a way that the reader is still engaged. Or how to stick really well to the point of view in a particular chapter without accidentally slipping into another character's head.

And those lessons served me well when I sat down to write Going Through the Change. The first draft of Change was ten times better than the first draft of Mother.

But that wasn't the be-all-and-end-all. In reworking Change, I had a different kind of puzzle to solve. Much of the conflict was external. There were physical fight scenes in which logistics had to be clear, but I still had to maintain the emotion and excitement of the fight. Nothing I'd written in that first novel helped with those new problems.

2. When you write with the end in sight, the first draft holds together better. 

Another contrast between that first novel and the second one was planning. I would still say I'm a pantser rather than a plotter, meaning that I write to discover what's going to happen most of the time. In fact, I had no idea how Mother was going to end until I was nearly done writing the first draft. Of course, that meant that I had to go back and rework a lot of the earlier parts of the novel in the second and third and fourth drafts to make sure that the beginning and middle led to and supported the ending.

In contrast, in the Change, I knew what the ending scene would look like very early on. I wrote a draft of the ending chapter when I had only written six or seven chapter of what ended up being a fifty chapter book. That made all the difference. I knew what I was leading up to, and, though, of course, there was a lot of rewriting to do, the first draft led to the ending far better this time.

That said . . ..

3. Even with the end in sight, things will change and you will have to backtrack

When writing goes well, it feels like story just flows out of you. So sometimes, you are surprised by what happens. Characters say or do something you hadn't anticipated. Do you scrap it just because it's not in the plan? Oh, heck no!

But when you make that change, it means you'll have to go back and change other things. For me, this time, that was a timeline issue. I changed when Linda told her family about her, um, Changes. So that changed, all told, parts of about fifteen chapters. But, my beta readers were right. It didn't make sense for her to take so long. And it is MUCH better now.

Which brings me to:

4. Don't resist change just because it will be hard work. Do what the story demands. 

Changing when Linda told her family led me to also change how someone in her family reacted. It added another layer of complication, but it played more true. When I realized how house-that-Jack-built this particular stack of dominos was getting, I considered not making the change. But, no, it served the story better. It let me deepen Linda's storyline by adding some tension in an otherwise over-perfect marriage. It made her more real. So, yeah, hard work, but so worth it.

5. A good graphic organizer can save your sorry ass. 

 For me it was a sort of time line/chart that helped this time. My mad scientist, Dr. Liu, was in the scenes of different women at different times. I was getting confused about where I'd left her last. I found a mistake where I had her in two places at the same time.

So, I made a little chart of chapter titles and highlighted the ones that Dr. Liu was in, so I could see where she was and make sure she had time to get from one place to another.

In other projects, it was a character relationship chart, or a motivation tracker. Usually, I make these up myself, or adjust some template someone gave me or I found on the Internet.

There's a lot of information to juggle in a novel. That grandchild you gave your character in chapter one was a boy, right? But here in chapter thirty-seven, it's a girl. Oops. So, yes, graphic organizers.

So there you go! See, she can be taught!

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