The Power of Rewriting

I will be the first to agree that taking over four years to write 100,000 coherent words of fiction seems excessive. Actually I wrote 145,000 words of fiction and only some of it was coherent, which is one of the many reasons why the rewrite is taking so long. But one good thing about taking that long is that I can really gain insight into my characters and my story. The bad thing is that after awhile, the story’s dead and I’m not rewriting, I’m just washing garbage, and I’m about three days away from washing garbage here, but another good thing is that I really love this book. When I finally let it go, it’s going to be the best I can do, which may not be good, but I’ll be proud of it anyway. Continue reading

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Questionable: How do you decide what your main plot is and who your antagonist is?

AG wrote:
So when is the decision to beef up your villain into the antagonist, and when is the decision to shrink the villain so that the focus is on the primary relationships? I remember that a common complaint has been that Marvel villains are weak, but for several of those films, that worked, since they didn’t get in the way of the primary relationships. But when does the complaint that the villain is weak become an actual issue?

There’s a lot to unpack there. I’ll tackle the first question at length and then hit the second on the way out.

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Today in Overthinking: Identity and the Jar in Tennessee

One of my favorite poems is Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar.” I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately for several reasons, and it’s just occurred to me that it might be a great metaphor for teaching the impact of identity in characterization. It’s such a slippery concept, and I’ve never thought I was particularly good at getting it across, but then I recently went back to the poem for the reasons and thought, “Oh, it’s right there.” So let’s try this again (waving to McDaniel students).

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Possibly Not the Kitchen Sink

Last night I made stirfry because I had a bunch of food that was about to go south, and you can put anything in stirfry. So I did. It’s not bad–just had some for lunch–because it turns out if you pour enough tamari and sesame oil and garlic on vegetables, they always taste good. But it was lacking direction. There’s so much stuff in there that I just added chow mien noodles and concentrated on the tamari and the crunch. I mean, it has to be healthy–green beans, peas, mushrooms,bok choy, celery, scallions, half a tomato left over from my sandwich, garlic–but there wasn’t any there there. I’m thinking that’s what happened with the first draft of Nita.
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Questionable: What’s With Your Obsession Over Word Counts?

Andrea asked:
I am wondering where the word count requirements originate. Is that an industry standard? Is it what you yourself have developed as the best structure? A mix of the two?

A mix of the two.

Word count is usually stipulated in the contract. In this case, my contract says 100,000 words, which is my natural length anyway. Legally I can go 10,000 words either side of that, so 90,000 to 110,000, although as I remember Fast Women was 116,000.

The act counts are mine because I write in acts to arc the plot. And because I want the plot to escalate, I try to make sure each act is shorter than the last one so that the turning points/big moments come faster together as the plot progresses. That’s just my thing, nothing contractural.

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Act Two is Killing Me

Here’s the problem with Act Two: It’s 45,000 words long. Even with allowing it to go to 30,000 (usually my second and third acts are within spitting distance of 25,000) that’s still 15,000 words I have to cut. That’s sixty to seventy pages. That is not something you can do by just dropping scenes. That’s rewriting. And because a book is like a machine full of cogs, every time you delete/change/add a new scene, another cog in the book moves somewhere and changes something else. Acts One, Three, and Four are in good enough shape that once I get Two done, I just have to read from the beginning and find out where all the cogs slipped in the rewrite. But Act Two is being a PITA, so I must go in and rewrite now. (You can stop reading now because the rest of this is just a description of what I’m doing, mostly so I stay on track. Do not expect brilliance.)
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Nita Final Drafting, Now With Obscure Notes

One of the things that happens as I work on a final draft is making notes about the little stuff, like Button pushing her glasses up her nose in Act One and Two and then not again. It’s not major rewrite, just making sure that I hit everything I’ve set up, repeat motifs, that sort of thing. So I use sticky notes on my desktop (all virtual) and at the end, where I am now, I go back and try to make sense of them. Most of the time, I can, but there are always a few puzzlers. So in the interests of getting a Monday blog post up here, here are some of the notes I’ll be processing this afternoon. I’ll be finding them stuck all over the place and on pieces of paper strewn through out the house, but for now it’s this. Talk about whatever you want in the comments. Have a nice Monday!

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