Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ch- ch- ch- Changes

Because I knew I would be writing this column on the third Monday in January, my first thought was to write about race in writing. I figured the flap about Avatar being racist while winning the Golden Globe would be a natural launch point. But the more I thought about it , the more I realized that was a political topic better suited to my own LiveJournal than this convivial writing forum. My second thought was to write the column Farrah wrote -- but she published first. (I've saved what I'd written before I saw her column and herein officially dibs the topic for next year.)

So, for a change of pace, I think I'll write about writing. Or more precisely, rewriting. I have often said I do not rewrite. I am not one of those walk away from the keyboard writers. When I finish with a story I spell check, and mail.

To be sure, if an editor requests a rewrite -- particularly if the rewrite is a condition of sale -- I rewrite if I can. (I can't always. The first of this year I sold two stories, but one of the sales didn't stick. As sometimes happens in media tie-in writing, elements of my story conflicted with established continuity. It was not a major point relative to the intellectual property -- the editor didn't notice until one of the continuity checkers found it -- but it was essential to my story. The story would not work if I changed it and I had to withdraw my ms.)

This year on my Live Journal I've started something new; something that's forcing me to really look at how I write and what I do with words. I'm posting the number of new words I write and keep each day. That "and keep" is important, because I'm discovering that I only keep about a third of the words I write. Prior to this daily record keeping, I would have told you I kept two thirds to three fourths of what I wrote; maybe deleting a sentence or two that doesn't flow well (or flows too prettily and distracts from the tale). Now I'm realizing I throw out paragraphs and pages wholesale.

Today's entry, for example, says merely "500 fiction." The fiction in this case is "Bad Water," a military science fiction story about a retired constable and his fishing boat being pressed into service by a reconnaissance squad. As originally sketched in on my graph paper (see "It's all a Plot") it would have run about 10-12k. Today I was close to the 8k mark when I realized the story was too damn linear. It didn't just need another try/fail cycle or two, it needed a convoluted side trip to save it from predictability. So I deleted 1600 words and hit my protagonist over the head with a piton. Then I spent about twenty minutes alternately staring into space and sketching on my graph paper while I worked out why he'd been hit on the head and what would have to happen to lead most effectively from that point to the denouement. (And, if I'm reading my flow chart right, the final story will clock in at 14-16k. We'll see.)

So what's your process? At what point in the writing do you spot things that need to change? And how do you go about making the changes?

1 comment:

Liane Spicer said...

I don't make major changes as I write since I outline and pretty much know where the story is going from up front. (Except when I hit a wall which can happen despite having a well thought out outline. Something that appears reasonable enough in outline might not hold up to close scrutiny when filling in all the details of plot and character.)

When the first draft is done I give it to my first reader(s) and wait for feedback while I put the story out of my mind so I can go back to it with fresh eyes. Invariably the feedback includes both suggestions that I'm happy to ignore and others that bear closer examination. I do a bit of brainstorming and jotting down of ideas for changes, and then begin working on the second draft, which involves:

- Removing chunks (words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters) entirely or placing edited versions elsewhere in the manuscript, and
- Inserting new material where necessary.

I've changed one manuscript to align with my agent's suggestions but don't plan on doing so again. Changes required by the editor I discuss with her and those might go either way: either she convinces me of the need for them or I convince her otherwise.

The one thing I absolutely hate is where the editor makes changes herself. These may be minor, but to me the other person's writing sticks out a mile and jars (mars?) the flow of my own expression.