Monday, June 25, 2012

Writing is Evolution, or why chapter one stopped working

When I started writing the first book in this series, way back at the end of last summer, I knew who the characters were, and I had a general idea of the conflict that should arise and how it would be resolved. That was it. It was, admittedly, very little to base a novel on, let alone a series of books.

I wrote, revised, edited, and then wrote some more. Fast forward about eight months. I'm half way through writing the first draft of the third book in this series. All the while I've been adding things and taking away things from book the first. At this point, I'm happier with the second book in the series than the first, because it's been incubating on the hard drive for a while, while I've been playing with book one again. Book three is sitting idle, waiting for me to resume the car chase scene I abandoned it in.

Why would I abandon a perfectly good car chase? Because I found out that book one was more of a car accident. Thanks to the insightful and delightful editorial input of one @FeakySnucker, every confusing thing is being excised or rewritten. And I'm grateful.

The process of writing seems to breed inconsistency. The more I wrote, the more alive my characters became in my head, the more I went back and changed things. Turns out, a lot of those changes created strange loops, redundancy, and a host of other problems. The biggest problem? The story changed or grew in my head without any of that information landing on the page. Not exactly convenient for the reader, eh?

Since I don't write specifically for the mind-readers of the world, it's fantastic to have someone point out the confusing bits. I know the story so well now that I'm incapable of seeing the deficiency. My brain fills in the gaps with the information it knows should be there.

When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher was explaining the importance of punctuation. He asked for a volunteer to stand up and read a paragraph out loud. I'm a dork, so I volunteered. The sample had no punctuation marks. The teacher, who obviously didn't know me very well yet, expected me to read it as one long breathless blob of words. My brain wouldn't allow that. I read it like it SHOULD have been written, inserting my own pauses where they clearly should have been. The teacher was flustered, and asked me to sit down, complaining that I was clearly too good a reader for that particular exercise.

But that's what my brain tends to do. When there's a mistake, I fix it automatically and move on. Just like with the little blobby writing sample, if I KNOW something should be in there, I fill in the gap and keep going. It might be selective blindness, or maybe I just have some sort of mental spackle that smooths all the rough bits and plot holes out.

And that, my friends, is why a good editor or crit partner is worth their weight in helium. (Comment context for the science-impaired: since helium is lighter than air, amassing enough to equal a human's weight is impossible, thus rendering their value as infinitely increasing.)

So all that setup (Look Ma! Backstory!) goes to prove a single point. I had to essentially rewrite the first chapter of the first book in the series last night. I was up until 3 in the morning, but I murdered half a dozen darlings, and wrote three new paragraphs that set the stage so much better. They explain the essential conflict of the story. I'd assumed all along that everyone would understand the MC's problem immediately, but then it was pointed out to me that I never really explained it at all! Crap! So now it's in there.

I'm going back to reread from the beginning, and hopefully I'll tweak and clarify a bit more before the mental spackle starts spreading over it again.

Just for fun, now: Things overheard in my house in the last 24 hours:

Me, being a bad influence: Lulu, you want to have cake for lunch?
Lulu: No, I think I want a proper lunch before cake.
Me: O_o
Lulu, 5 minutes later after rummaging through the fridge: Okay, I'll have some cake.

Helper Monkey, on leaving for work after a week of vacation: Good night, see you in the morning.
Me: Don't work too hard!
40 minutes later, the phone rings, and I panic. Phones ringing at midnight aren't usually a good thing.
HM: Guess what?
Me, panicky: What? Please tell me you're okay?
HM: Fine. I'm not scheduled to come back until tomorrow night. I'll be home in half an hour.
Me: Crap. Ten bucks in gas down the toilet...and the last night of your vacation wasted.

Oh, and I went swimming for the first time this summer. I've taken Lulu to the pool several times, but this was the first time I went in. It was so crowded, you needed a shoehorn to get in. Even the lap lane was populated with people teaching their toddlers how to doggie paddle. I managed to get about two dozen laps in, nonetheless, by swimming under, around, and through clusters of sunburned teenagers and kids in floaties. It was better than nothing. Hopefully we'll get to go back this week at a less crowded time. Usually after dark is the time to go. All the moms who sit in the lounge chairs baking themselves are gone, and the few kids tend to stick to the shallow end and let the old fogies have the lap lane.

With that cheerful thought, GET OFF MY LAWN! I'm going back to work. Thanks for tolerating me yet again.

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