Monday, December 21, 2009

Rewriting and Darning Socks

What I'm reading: Locked In, by Marcia Muller

Long, long ago, when I was a wee lass, my mother was teaching me all the ins and outs of what the school system called "Home Economics". I learned to knit (potholders), to cook (crushing Graham crackers for Mom's cheesecake crust) to make beds with hospital corners. I learned to iron starting with my dad's handkerchiefs (because then all men carried white handkerchiefs) and pillowcases. Mom and Dad's generation had lived through the Depression, and frugality was a way of life.

So even though Mom had a 'darning egg', I was surprised when she told me that if a sock got a hole in the heel, to throw it away "because you'll never get it mended smooth, and it'll raise blisters on whoever wears it."

As I mentioned Saturday, I've been working on revising a plot thread my crit partners had some trouble with.

The major question was whether there was a justifiable reason for a burgeoning relationship between the cop protagonist (Gordon), and Angie, who works in the town's #1 café. From the start of the book, it's been clear to everyone in town (except Gordon), that he has a 'thing' for her. The paramedics are betting on whether he asks her out before Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. So having them finally hook up in the book doesn't bother me at all. And since it's not a romance, there's no need for Angie to be a POV character.

However, the scene where they finally consummated the relationship (or, as one of my commenters said, "do the naughty") didn't seem to serve any purpose beyond the relationship angle. Having one reason for a scene isn't really enough justification for having it on the page.

So, my challenge. Cut the whole thing, or give it another reason to be there. Since I like the relationship angle, and I like the way Gordon needs Angie to make the first move before he recognizes that he has feelings for her. They're in her apartment, and she's just initiated their first kiss.

[Gordon] "You don't think this is too…fast? It's not even our first date."

She burst out laughing. "Chief, we've had breakfast, lunch, or dinner together at least four times a week for the past year. I think we're past the first date stage."

(And, unlike my romances, there's not really anything beyond some foreplay on the page.)

Decision made. Give the scene another reason to be there. Gordon will find a clue, although he won't know it's a clue at the time. On the plane to Colorado, I mulled over what the clue should be. I decided that it should be something tangible.

Next challenge: working the new information into the existing scene, while making sure that the timing remained intact. For the scenes with Gordon, it would be crucial to make sure no new clues were revealed too soon. If Gordon sees something that's obviously related to the case and doesn't act on it, then he falls into the 'too stupid' category. If it's obvious to the reader that it's a clue, but Gordon doesn't see it as such, then his credibility as a competent cop is threatened.

And if that's not enough, the changes have to be worked in seamlessly. My added caution: I'm already at the top end of my word count, so I don't want to get too carried away with adding things.

How to do it? The most 'obvious' solution is to add bits and pieces. However, that is probably the most dangerous method. If you've done a good job with the first draft, then every line should lead directly to the next. Prying sentences or paragraphs apart to insert new lines just won't work.

The goal is to work everything in so the mending is visible only to the author, much like the safety pin in the 'after' picture.

Rewriting the entire scene from scratch is another possibility. But if much of the scene is all right the way it was, this seems too time consuming and cumbersome. And, let's be honest. Once the words are on the page, you want to keep them there. You slaved to create the most brilliant dialogue, the cleverest narrative. But you have to be willing to let go. Trying to work in new bits so they have the same flow isn't likely to work. The reader is likely to notice a choppiness to the writing, even if you've managed to insert all your plot points. Like those blisters from wearing socks with mended heels.

And, for the "do they do the naughty?" question: Yes, they still do, and in the rewrite – they do it again.

Tomorrow, my guest is multi-published author Betina Krahn. In the spirit of the holiday, she's giving away copies of her newest release to THREE lucky commenters, so be sure to come back. And invite your friends.


Paris said...

Maybe I'm just not seeing something but if you have paramedics betting on whether or not they get together and everyone knowing something he doesn't know you I think you have set this scene up. You have a reason for it because it may impact the way he acts or treats a situation in the future. Does the scene serve to reveal something about his character that most don't see but will impact the way the plot is resolved?

Just my 2 cents;-)

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You *could* just tell yourself you're writing the scene from scratch just *to see*...that's what I do. 90% of the time I use the rewrite.

Great analogy here, Terry.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Terry Odell said...

Paris - in a romance, a scene for the sex is easier to get away with. In a mystery, it's going to be a diversion. I know I like following relationships in mysteries as much as I like following the crime solving, but there are many, many mystery readers who regard all that "mushy stuff" as superfluous. Hence my need to give more than character development.

Any scene should have at least 3 reasons for being there.

Terry Odell said...

Elizabeth - Easier said than done for me, because I have all those brilliant lines of dialogue I hate to snip.

But that's exactly what I'm doing for my final scenes. And it's taking me in a new direction, which I think is good. A bit more conflict, more tension. At least I hope so!

jasouders said...

Thanks for this Terry. I'm in the process of doing rewrites for my YA, so this came just in time. :)

Wynter Daniels said...

Love your analogy! As you know, sometimes we have to kill our darlings, painful as it might be. Good luck with the scene.

jdcoughlin said...

I'm with Terry, three reasons. Three legs to stand on, balance. I sometimes get an idea, write a scene, because it's enjoyable to do so instead of plodding through what isn't working. But it's a time suck. Problems are still there. Good luck with yours.

Celia Yeary said...

TERRY--thanks for the lesson. I'll remember the "three reasons" rule. But then, that's difficult, too. Good analogy with the sock! Celia

Carol Kilgore said...

That's why I don't pay much attention to the writing in first draft because I always, without fail, add and cut so much on the second. It's in the third draft when I start to really pay attention. I try to make each one the best I can without sweating bullets, but it doesn't bother me in the least to rework anything.

Watery Tart said...

I'm glad you're leaving it there and wish you luck weaving in your clue! I have the same exact hesitancy on rewriting--if I nailed the dialog I just can't make myself start from scratch. If it is a more 'watching the action' scene then I can, but I use a lot of dialog, so those are the exception.

Lynne Roberts said...

Terry, I really like your analogy. (even though I've never darned a sock in my life)

As a writer, you must look at every angle and make your patches seamless or you weaken the whole book.

Good luck and Happy Holidays!


Sheila Deeth said...

Your advice and analogies always leave me feeling inspired and ready to work on my old manuscripts - except the family's waking up and there's Christmas stuff to do just now. Still, your analogies stick in my mind so they'll help me when it's quiet again. Thanks, as always.

Mary Ricksen said...

But how do you know when to listen to critique partners. I've had conflicting advise, how do you handle that?
Good blog Terry, Merry Christmas!

Terry Odell said...

JA - glad this made sense for you. Good luck

Wynter - as long as it's an analogy and I don't actually have to mend anything!

JD - time suck or not, sometimes those detours open new pathways to the plot. I think our subconscious minds know what we're doing even when we don't.

Celia - I tend to check the reasons AFTER I've written. Might be wise to take the time to figure them out BEFORE.

Carol - I like my first drafts to come in clean, because I can't seem to deal with a lot of holes. Sure, they need polishing, but I like to think the 2nd draft is almost ready to go.

WT - Yeah, no way I could deny Gordon his moment(s)

Sheila - I'm sure the manuscript will wait while you enjoy family and holidays

Mary - great question, and it'll be an upcoming blog topic!

Terry Odell said...

Oops. Lynne, I didn't mean to slide by your comment. I agree, the story can't seem patched together.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Instead of adding new words to my novel yesterday, I scrolled back through the last few chapters and changed at least seven scenes, all because I couldn't come up with a logical reason why my characters had fled south in a snowstorm instead of staying where they were. It seemed like a good idea at the time -- all that tension -- but it didn't work. I couldn't answer the "why" question.

In your case, it seems the "why" is already answered, so you're good to go.

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Patricia. I think you're right about that scene.

Now I'm working on the final capture of the bad guy scene, which was a bit too pat, too rushed as I wanted to bring the novel to an end.

Pitfall: it's getting much longer, which means I'll probably have to go back and do more landcaping!

GunDiva said...

I always learn so much from your posts. Thank you. Now if I could just find that magic wand that allows me to write seamlessly without the need for darning, I wouldn't complain :)

Terry Odell said...

GD - thanks so much. It's gratifying to know that sharing my own writitng struggles helps others.

And I agree -- it would be nice not to have to do any mending, but I'm not sure that's reality for most of us.