Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The Wicked-Great Fun of Revisions (No, Seriously!)

Here it is almost midnight, and I'm printing out a paper copy of Tall, Dark, and Dead. I know most authors claim to despise the revision process, but I kind of like it. I don't like the tedium of fixing commas, which I will admit I never learn to use properly. Nor do I enjoy correcting my atrocious spelling errors. But, at least at first blush, I find revisions a rewarding part of the process. Why? Because in a lot of ways, I don't like writing. Don't get me wrong, I love story-telling. I can't imagine not spinning wild fantasies in my head. Ever since I figured what my imagination was for, I've been abusing it ever since. I'm one of those people who is playing pretend all the time. I mumble character's lines to myself as I'm shopping at the grocery store. Every night before I fall asleep, my head is full of some crazy story-line or another. What I don't always like (and why I've resisted blogging for so long) is that the actual process of putting words down on paper and organizing my "visions" into proper scenes with plot and purpose. That's the hard stuff for me. For people who know me, it probably makes more sense because the name Tate and organization are rarely used in the same sentence. In that way, I'm a lot like my character of Garnet -- it's an unusual conversation of mine that goes from point A to point B without digressing through G and sometimes skipping around the ideas in Z before finally making it back to what I was talking about. (Not unlike this sentence, really.) So, revisions are a kind of relief. Most of the words are already written when I'm at the point of revising. Revisions are my chance to go back and deepen, stretch, clarify, enrich, and/or dramatize. I actually do a lot of revisions in the course of writing a novel-- or short story, for that matter. I'm in a regularly meeting (live, as opposed to on-line) writer's critique group, and after every meeting after which I've handed out my novel chunk, I get back seven people's opinions of it. I always go back that same week -- usually the next day -- and do the revisions I deem worthy, which to be fair, is often most of them. My group is very professional. Only rarely do I completely blow-off a comment someone has made. I sometimes joke with my partner that writing for me is a series of two-steps forward, one-step back. By the time I get to the first "THE END" the book or short story is already pretty polished. It's officially a first draft, but it's a first draft that contains a ton of micro-revisions. Then, before I send the manuscript to my editor, I have a number of people act as "beta readers." I have these folks read the whole novel, since in critique group it can take months for the manuscript to make it all the way from beginning to end (and my group won't read revised chapters, so they have only the flawed visions in their head.) At this point I do another fairly deep revision. Then, of course, the editor makes suggestions. For Tall, Dark, and Dead my editor emailed me a five page, single-spaced revision letter. Her comments, however, were fairly substantial. So, it was back to the revision table for another deep rewrite.We're not talking about a full scale, rip-out-the-heart-of-the-novel-and-start-over kind of thing. But, I am talking about ditching entire scenes and writing them from scratch. Also, I added a number of paragraphs of clarification or character development. The biggest issue for Tall, Dark, and Dead was finding a way to give the reader the somewhat unsavory bits about Garnet's past, while maintaining the light-and-fun tone I established in the opening line, which carries through the majority of the book. I couldn't introduce the ideas later, because they were critical to establishing the character's main conflict. So, we (me and my editor) ended up pulling out what was essentially a flashback scene and making it a non-prologue prologue. I think it works. You'll have to see if you agree. Anyway, as of 10:45 this evening I finished what I'm dubbing my semi-final, final revisions. I still need my partner to do that spell checking/comma thing, but then it's off to the publisher and I start writing Drop-Dead Gorgeous (book II) while waiting for the copy-edited manuscript to come back for the final-final final revisions. Of course, I'll have to check it over again when the page proofs come back, but that should be the last time I should have to do any major typing. Well, there you go. Just a little meditation on my process.

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