Zelda 7: Creativity and Rewriting

For those who asked, I can’t talk about the Fun Book, it’s still in the squishy stage when it has to be just me. I wouldn’t have brought it up here except that it’s taking time away from You Again and that’s what the Twelve Days are about, what happens as I try to write Zelda.

One of the worst parts about rescuing a past book is that since it’s not new, so much of what I do doesn’t feel creative. There’s something about starting a brand new book that’s both terrifying (one hundred thousand freaking words) and exhilarating (I can do anything!). Rewriting is so much more about craft and decision than it is about story-telling. So I’m thinking maybe running both is keeping me creative enough that I can do the rewrite without losing my mind. Rewriting Agnes damn near killed me. It needed all the rewrites I did, it could probably use another, but it went on too long without me doing anything creative because I was determined to get Agnes out of my life before I started anything new. Looking back, that was a mistake.

The problem in doing both is the story world. I have to be able to enter that story world and believe in it, even in the rewrite, and that’s really hard when I’m doing two books and keeping two worlds in my head. Music and collage help put me there, but there comes a point when that window closes and I’m looking at the book from the outside. That’s good for copy edits and polishing, bad if my rewrite requires me to still write new scenes or to radically change the old ones. So I have to make sure I finish a book before that window closes, and writing two at the same time just ups the chances that I won’t make it.

But the good news is, Zelda is shaping up again in my head, so I think maybe You Again, since it’s been such a long time, will just become a new book. The vestiges of the old world are in my head, but the book I’m writing now comes from where I am now, and so the story world that emerges this time will be different which is probably why it’s sticky now. And the real challenge is to cut out everything that’s going to drag me back to a dead story world. Those sixty-thousand words I had that were going to make this a fast book to write are dwindling with every rewrite because some of them were infodump (a lot of them were infodump) but mostly because Zelda’s different now and so is Rose, not a lot but some, and so I can’t use the parts that are too mired in the old story world. Holding onto those is going kill the story I can tell now.

And then part of it is just that I overwrote this sucker, using massive slugs of dialogue to convey infodump instead of writing scene. And I know better. So now I’m looking at the 7000 words I wrote to get James to Rosemore to meet Zelda, and I’m going to have to knock it down to 2500, 2000 would be better, and that’s not going to be easy. Well, taking off the first 2200 was easy because I started it in the wrong place, in James’s law office instead of on the road. So that was an easy cut. Then I went through and chopped off some more obvious infodump and now it’s down to 3500. A thousand, maybe fifteen hundred to go. It’s going to be a long night.

And after that, my word count will have dropped to 50K. If this keeps up, this book will be fifty words long. But very tight. No infodump. Onward and upward. Or at least onward.

Because I still don’t have that first Zelda scene right.

12 thoughts on “Zelda 7: Creativity and Rewriting

  1. Maybe the first scene isn’t quite right but I see real progress going on. It is happening! You aren’t just staring at the White Boards, things are getting sticky!

    I’ve barely met Zelda and I already like her. Will Mara draw us a Zelda when you are done? That would be awesome!

  2. Along with the window closing thing, and your sticky time, there’s what I call a “liquid” time during the process when the story world hasn’t yet quite set, so I can still say, “Okay, I’ll see what I can do,” with editor comments like “I love the heroine but the hero’s a wuss and you really need to ax the entire suspense subplot.” In fact, I did exactly that with a book about six years ago, tossed out probably half the old book, reworked the half that worked into a new story, gave the hero a personality transplant and everybody was happy. Including me.

    Then there’s the “set in stone” stage, which I know writers aren’t supposed to admit to, but tough. It happens. And it’s not because I’m stubborn (too much), it’s because after fourteen editing passes the story ossifies in the brain and major suggestions just bounce right off it. Don’t even make a dent, let alone an impression. For good or ill, the story has become whatever it’s going to be, and having to write new material, as you say, when your mind has already said, “Next!” is hell.

    However, I’ve found in my case that even stone can crumble, if enough years have passed. And there have been those occasional relics that, upon a reread, turn liquid again. A shimmery, lovely, maleable stuff that sucks me right back into the story. Doesn’t happen often (there are stories George Clooney couldn’t persuade me to visit again), but it’s fun when it does.

    I feel your pain with Agnes (actually, having gone on the whole journey with you and Bob last year, I’ve been feeling your pain for some time). But it sounds as though Zelda is doing the Phoenix thing for you, which is good. And a fun book…what a concept, writing something just because you want to. Wow.

  3. The truth is, Jenny, that the original idea has never changed. You still know that the book is going to be a who-dun-it set in a big old house with lots of quirky people (your forte, by the way–quirky people!). What has changed for the better is that you actually know who the main character IS, something that you weren’t sure of when you started penning this tome.

    I have been following this blog closely because what you are doing is the same thing I have been struggling with myself. And the fact that how you are resolving it so closely matches my own efforts is fascinating to me! After following the class over at HW/SW I realized that my idea was sound–I just need to figure out the conflict and the characters and make them more concrete and real.

    I think with the amount of editing and rewriting you are doing so far that You Again is going to be a whole new book. Same idea, just a different cast. Should be fun!

  4. Because my writer’s brain is curious, when you chop all this stuff out, do you keep it another file in case you want to go back to it later or do you literally get rid of it?

  5. I seem to recall that Bet Me only retains 5k words from the original manuscript. And it’s widely considered one of your best novels. So although this is looking like lots of work, it still looks auspicious.

  6. You manage to whittle this thing down to a haiku and I will personally nominate you for the RWA Excellence in Manuscript Reduction and Succinct Writing Award.

    What? There is no such thing? Shameful oversight.

    You get back to work with that knife and the rest of us will petition RWA on your behalf.

    Don’t hurt yourself.

  7. What Rozasharn said. I remember this whole slice, trim, cut process as Bet Me had an Extreme Makeover, and just think what a cracking classic came out of that.

  8. Sigh. I just love listening to the writing process. It makes me appreciate the reading that much more. There are just some characters that live on in my mind. I just wish I could crawl into their world and be part of it. And seeing that world get built from the ground up, then get torn down and rebuilt is so cool. Jenny you are amazing. Maybe someday you will let me crawl into your world and just hang out in the corner for a while.

  9. Jenny, of course you don’t have the first Zelda scene right yet! You haven’t finished the book. Aren’t you always telling us not to keep rewriting the first scene until the book’s done?

  10. Well, from a novel to an essay. I’ll still read it. I can’t imagine the conflict of letting go something that made you want to write it down, but it seems the newer Zelda really wants you to let those words go and get on with her newer direction. Which is really cool, of course I’m not the one wrangling the words into their proper position in line.

  11. Of course you can’t talk about the Fun Book! That’s what makes it fun! It’s all yours and nobody else’s. Your very own sandbox and you don’t have to let anyone else in.

    I think keeping a Fun Book on the side is a must. Somehow, rather than draining creativity from the main project, it seems to feed the process instead. Maybe the girls in the basement get overstimulated and just keep throwing things up willy-nilly. I don’t know, but I know that it works wonders for me.

    Also, those Fun Books are often where I do the most growing as a writer, too, because I feel free to take big risks, since no one is going to see them.

    So guard that puppy and don’t let anyone else in.

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