Revision Ramble: Act One

You know, it’s a miracle anybody ever finishes a book. Somebody once said that novels aren’t finished, they’re abandoned, and that’s so true. I would have published this one two years ago, but since it was rejected I’ve been rewriting it ever since. It really needed rewriting, too. No wonder it got rejected.

• Here’s a big problem: I know everything that happens in this story. That means if there’s something that’s not clear, I can explain just fine, so why put it on the page? Because it’s not clear to the reader, you dumbass (that’s directed at me, not you). I’m going through Act One, which is that first stretch of story when the reader knows nothing, and thinking, “You know, if I didn’t know what was going on here, I’d be really confused.” It’s not that I have to explain things, it’s that I have to put things on the page so the readers can figure it out if they want to. Clues. Foreshadowing. The layering that means when they read the book again, they’ll think, “OH, it was right there all the time.” That stuff. Once I’m out of Act One it’s not so bad because the foundation is in place, but Act One . . . ARGH.

• Someone asked how to revise for snark. You really can’t, snark comes from character. Nick doesn’t snark, that’s not how he thinks. Nita does, but it comes from anger–make the joke, don’t kill anybody. (Yeah, she’s a lot like Agnes.). Rab’s too innocent to snark. Jeo can but he’s mostly too polite. Keres is all snark. So is Max. Button is stealth snark, unleashing it mostly on Max, whom she also shoots, basically the same action. So when I said revise for snark, I was wrong. What I need to revise for is juice on the page, the stuff that makes the reader turn the damn page. Where’s the excitement in this scene? If it’s two people just exchanging info, there is no excitement. Where’s the conflict? What’s at stake? Where’s the sizzle? What makes this scene fun even if it’s so sad the reader is sobbing? Where’s the reader investment, why do they care about what’s happening? Yes, every damn scene.

It’s a miracle I ever finish a book.

• I have one scene that I use “emotions” or “emotional” five times. I’ve been writing this sucker for years and I never caught that before. It’s easy to catch in other people’s work–I caught Krissie repeating a couple of times which never happens because she’s a pro (“He has to stop growling,” I said; never ask me to beta, I’m obnoxious), but when it’s your own stuff, after the fifty-sixth revision, it’s hard to actually reread the thing. If it’s just a copy edit, you can read it backward, sentence by sentence, so you’re just looking at sentence structure, but I’d rather be dragged through a hedge backward than read this backward. But look at this:

Emotion. That was new.
• “The guy has no emotions, he’s like a machine.” Except today, Nick was having emotions.
• He looked up at Nick’s face and saw the exasperation plain there, more emotion than the dead guy had ever shown before.
Emotions, he thought. Big ones. What happened to you on Earth, Nick?

That’s not just in the same scene, that’s in the same seven pages in the same scene. How did I miss that? I fixed it, but still.

• Then there’s the “I just have to get them from Point A to Point B” problem. Nita meets Button and fights with Jason, Nick talks to Rab and Vinnie, that’s fine (although I had to shorten it), because it’s our protagonists (well, protagonist and love interest) in conflict setting up the meet. Then there’s Nita meeting Nick and drinking scupper, that’s all action and directly romance/cute meet (well, not that cute, but you know). Then Nita goes home to a home invasion and Nick goes upstairs and they have suspicions about each other and decide to look into each other. That last bit is short because I cut the hell out of it, so that’s okay. Then next morning Nita goes to breakfast at the diner and Nick joins her and the relationship starts. And then , , , oh, dear god, then they go to work separately, Nita’s ex shows up with a new suspicious partner, Nick gets a new shirt and finds out stuff at the historical society, Nita hits the bar and the shirt shop to ask questions about Nick, Nick goes to the B&B and Motel Styx to investigate his lost agents, Nita goes to the B&B to talk to Astoria and then to Mr.Crome, and then she gets called to Motel Styx and Nick goes to Mr. Crome and gets yanked back to Hell . . .

You see the problem. First of all that’s a ton of non-sizzling prose. Second, it’s a ton of prose with no Nick and Nita together (say it with me, this is a romance). Third, although it’s full of information I want the reader to know, it has no information the reader wants to know. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of fiction: you have to go through it to get to the rest of the story, but your story is going to die stranded there. That was my fix-it yesterday. Well, I also took out a lot of “emotion” from the repetition scene and I fixed some clarity gaps in the smite scene, but mostly it was trying to get a wind blowing in Part Four of Act One, aka The Bermuda Dull Spot. Part five and six move, but none of that matters if the reader DNFs because Part Four just sits there in the doldrums like a lump, lecturing to them.

• The good news is that One, Two, and Three weren’t bad, I’d already chopped the hell out of them, and now they feel thin to me because of the chopping. Still, I don’t think I lost anything important.

• Those of you who’ve read Act One in all its multiple versions, here’s the outline of the scene sequences:

One: Character Intro: Meet Nita (and Button and Jason and Frank), meet Nick (and Rab and Jeo and Bella, foreshadow Max). Set-up, create expectation of Meet.
Two: The Meet (Assumption): Nick and Nita meet, Nita gets drunk on scupper which humans don’t do, Nick orders her investigated.
Three: Aftermath: Nita and Button argue about Nick, Nita has a home invasion.
Four: First Move (Attraction): Nita and Nick have breakfast, argue about investigation, Bermuda Triangle.
Five: Turning Points to Change Everything: Nick goes to Hell, Nita goes to Motel Styx, awful realizations for both, turning points.
Six: Second Move: Beginning of Partnership: Nita and Nick try to save Forcas, fight Richiel, Nita knows the supernatural is real (Big Turning Point for Our Protagonist).

So that’s the direction of Act One: intro the lovers and get them attracted to each other while kicking their worlds out from under them so they have to grab for each other to survive.

• Act Two: They fall in love and make real progress in solving all the mysteries and their problems until it all blows up at the end turning point. This is the mess I have to focus on now, this act is the traditional love story, but at least that will be fun.Plus, I have plenty of Diet Coke and frozen pizza, and I am not afraid.

Yes, I know this post has no organization. It’s a ramble. You know those are always a mess. I can revise posts or I can revise novels, people, and I’m picking a lane.

19 thoughts on “Revision Ramble: Act One

  1. It sounds (as we say in the wilds of New England) WICKED GOOD! It’ll be totally worth it in the end. Do you need emergency supplies of chocolate sent?

    1. Oh, please, when I got the Diet Coke, I got the large bag of assorted Dove chocolates.
      But I appreciate the thought, thank you!

  2. I once read that people with PTSD often have a tendency to repetitively engage with art/media/whatever that they have already seen. I guess it’s the comfort of knowing that nothing will break you while you’re having a good time. Anyway, since the early days of the pandemic, my coping mechanism has been your books. (I mean seriously…I read each of them and then start back at the top of the stack again. I think I’ve read through your entire published catalogue at least seven times in the past 18 months.) Anyway, this is just to say thanks, and I’m rooting for you, and also thanks.

    1. Oh thank you for telling me this. Makes me really want to finish Nita now so you have something new to read (g).

  3. This is way cool. It reminds me of the “Here I am. Here is my cohort. Take me or leave me. Take us or leave me.” of the Jenny Cruisie books I’ve been reading lately.

  4. I love these craft posts SO MUCH.

    Repetition: it’s so easy to miss. Sometimes if I have that uneasy feeling I’ve been repetitive in a paragraph or page, I just sit and stare at it without actually reading, and the *shape* of the repeated word will suddenly reveal itself in all its repetitive glory. Like those old color-vision test images.

    1. It really helps to read the ms out loud, which I haven’t done yet because it can be so excruciating. That usually catches repetition and sound issues.

      1. I HATE the reading out loud part beacause I hate reading out loud in any situation.
        And even when I do . . . My first picture book was published after fifteen years of rewrites. five years after publication I was reading aloud to my granddaughter and realized the teachers name was Miss Mapleleaf on one page and Mrs. Mapleleaf two pages later. My mind still burns with humiliation.

        It will never be perfect, no matterhow many edits you do. Your editor will discover something you didin’t catch.
        What it will be is purely wonderful and a Crusie. I cannot wait for the result.

  5. I am in awe of your persistence, Jenny. Also in awe of anyone who can write books of 100,000 words. Kids’ books are 60,000 maximum, and even that is too much for most kids, so these days I’m down to about 40,000. The thought of 100,000 words makes me quail.
    Plus I learn so much from your revision blogs.

    1. Kids’ books are even harder, because there is no place to hide excess in short books. Mo Willems once said that after one month he had the story and drawings almost where he wanted them. Then it takes him an average of another eight months to edit out every word or line that wasn’t absolutely essential to the story.

    2. Shorter is always harder. Short stories are the worst.

      The key to 100,000 words books is to do them in parts. Act One is about 33,000, Act Two and Three are about 28000 and 25000 and Act Four is whatever you have left, about 15,000. So actually, I write shorter than you do.

  6. I love this blog entry, there is so much learning in it! And I am so excited for a new Cruisie! Keep hammering, you’ve got this!

  7. It sounds as though massive progress has been made. I’d bet money that your agent wants it this time around.

  8. I always loved this one. I’m so glad you’ve come back to it and I can’t wait to read the finished version!

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