Before anybody asks, no I haven’t cut Act Two yet. I’m fairly happy with Act One, and Act Four is going to need very little rewriting and no cutting because it’s already short, thank god, so it’s Act Two and Act Three that I have to cut anywhere from seventy to eighty pages from. Each. As Button would say, Crap.
Act Two is going to be the real bitch, so I skipped ahead to Act Three, thinking it would be a piece of cake since it could be divided into the Three Faces of Nick: 1858, 1934, 1981. And if it were Nick’s book, it would be easy. But it’s Nita’s book, which means that even though I can keep those three divisions, they have to be about Nita, not Nick. I even broke the damn act on the wrong turning point. I had it the scene where Nick collapses from being poisoned, but Nita doesn’t find out about it until several scenes later. So the scene where Nita realizes Nick isn’t Nick any more and she’s alone again, is the turning point. Except I never really wrote that scene, at least not that way.
So now I must rethink this act.
The rest of this post is me thinking out loud, and you know how that goes: disjointed and boring. Feel free to stop reading now.
August 5, 2019, 1:19 So I got all ready to cut the home invasion scene and chickened out. There’s stuff in there that I don’t know how to do elsewhere–the first horrified mention of Button, the entrance of Joyce the Cat, Nita taking the fall for Button and beginning their relationship, Frank as an important character–plus without this I have pages of Talk. I like Talk. I’ll spend my entire story just doing Talk if nobody stops me, but Talk Kills Story, so I need action, bodies in motion, Aristotle insists on it, so . . .
Damn. I know Faulkner said to kill your darlings, but have you read Faulkner? Darlings all over the place.
So today, I find something else to cut in that damn first act, so I can do the second act tomorrow. Think of this as a live blog of the Reduction of Act One. Not that that’s not what the whole blog has been about for weeks. Argh. But first I have to eat lunch and take the dogs for their Carl Moment. (Carl is the neighbor who lives two doors down who has a darling Yorkie named Jackson and who gives them cookies and pats and tells them they’re Good Dogs. It’s the high point of their day.). But then, we’re cutting Act One. BRB.
Jeanine asked: I know you’ve said that every writer has their own process and they must discover what works for them. Nonetheless, in your discussions of the craft of writing, you often speak of guidelines for writing or, at least, for the finished product. For example you speak of things to avoid, such as prologues or flashbacks. Have you encountered any occasions where the writer completely breaks the rules or ignores the guidelines that you’ve established (at least for yourself), and what shouldn’t work, works brilliantly?
All the time. That’s why I slap the “many roads to Oz” disclaimer on everything I teach.
So I’m going back to the original manuscript and starting my pruning from a different perspective. I had cut a lot from the book, but it wasn’t getting better, it was just getting shorter and thinner, not as much depth, not as rich, and it felt rushed. Maybe it needed to be 135,000 words? No. I knew the book was lardy, over written, Too Much Stuff. So I reconceptualized my approach. (That’s the way we MFAs talk. Actually, I just said, “Well, this sucks, Crusie, try again.)
I started with that classic, “What is this book about?”
Kate asked: What types of description do you think are needed in novels, and what do readers just skip over? Do readers like to know she has brown eyes and a dimple?
My take on needed description is “not much,” mostly because readers like to imagine their own characters and will overrule your descriptions if they get in the way.
Another reason is that I’m a bear about PoV and the only way a PoV character can describe herself is by looking in a mirror (NEVER DO THAT) which is completely unnatural. (Think about the last time you looked in a mirror; did you describe yourself? No. The last time I looked in a mirror, I thought, Who is that old woman and why is she wearing my pajamas?).
Another reason is that if we’re interacting with somebody in real life, we get impressions, we don’t stop to do inventories because that takes time, and the long pause and the staring will cause comment. So if a first person or third limited PoV character goes on for a paragraph about what somebody looks like, unless she has a good reason–she’s a detective analyzing a suspect, for example–she’s going to notice only a few telling details (telling to her and the story) and move on.
Krissie and I have been e-mailing about sex in our current WiPs (I know, you’re not surprised). She’s dealing with button flies and I’m trying to figure out plot arcs, which tells you all you need to know about how we write. But underneath that and the place the conversation eventually went is the role that sex plays in story. Krissie, if I’m understanding her correctly, feels it’s central to life in general and therefore central to story (not the most important thing in life, but crucial). I feel it’s an action and therefore illustrative of character and relationship arc, but not central to anything, even story (unless you’re writing erotica, in which case, yes, central). Add to that, I really hate writing sex scenes which is why I think of them of scenes during which sex happens. And yet here I am with four sex scenes (maybe0 in Nita’s book. Argh.
When a contractor gets the big stuff done on a job, she or he and the homeowner makes a punch list: a list of all the little stuff needed to completely finish the job. Technically it’s anything that did not conform to specifications, but it’s the little stuff, too, that just got lost in the big tasks. It’s about this time in a book that I do a punch list for all the things that I’ve forgotten or let drop, changed in one place but not another, forgot to layer in, details that are important but not addressed yet, etc. I have a much more complex list of big issues to solve for character, plot, and theme, but the punch list is little stuff that’s still important. Such as . . .
Some of you may remember the absolute fit I threw over Lucifer when it premiered last year. Hated it. Hated it, hated it, HATED IT. I was insulted by the lousy writing and the tragic waste of a solid cast. So I stopped watching because after a while, you’re not a critic anymore, you’re just a bitch. Then I read on the AV Club that it was actually good this year, so I went back to try a couple of episodes from Season Two.
This was published in 2016 shortly after the cop show Lucifer premiered. I didn’t like it, and I did a rant about it, and then still obsessed with it, I did this brainstorm revision to suit my taste in story, unaware that I’d just begun a new novel, The Devil in Nita Dodd. So this is here to show brainstorming for Nita, even though I didn’t realize I was brainstorming Nita:
I’ve been e-mailing with Krissie who keeps defending Lucifer, and I started to tell her how I’d do it, and I thought, “Wait. Blog post and then everybody can come in and tell me why I’m wrong.” So here’s me brainstorming my Lucifer: Continue reading →
“I’m writing a story I really, really loved when I wrote the first draft. But now I’ve let so many people influence how I write it that it isn’t mine anymore. All the shine has gone off it. (This has actually happened to two books, but one I know how to fix.) I want the original back. The story I was excited about, the one that entertained me, but I’m whenever I think of looking at it again I get
this yuck feeling in my stomach and I end up playing scrabble instead.
Do you have a method for reclaiming a story that you might have over edited or changed in ways that killed it for you?”