Monday, October 10, 2011

Editing and Sewing Machines

What I'm reading: Blind Faith, by CJ Lyons

There are those who write via a "discovery draft" racing to get from page one to 'the end' and then going back and revising. And revising. And revising. This is the approach of NaNoWriMo--write it all; no edits. That's a process I've never been able to embrace, so I was heartened once when I attended a workshop given by Linda Howard. She said she writes, then backs up and fixes, then moves forward, then backs up and fixes some more. She likened her process to using a zig-zag sewing machine. When she finished, she said, the manuscript was ready to send to her editor.

Her method is close to the way I write. I edit as I go. (Heck, I plot as I go, too!)  Here's an example of my process from my current WIP, another of my Pine Hills Police series.

Overall, my heroine's goal was to open her own bakery, so, of course, my goal was to keep that from happening—or at least, to delay it.

Since I prefer to escalate the conflict rather than throw the reader into a full-blown crisis on page one, I began with simple accidents and setbacks as her contractor and crew (which she refers to as the Klutz Brigade) worked to get her bakery finished so she could open on time.

But that's not really enough of a conflict to carry the entire book. Since the book is a romantic suspense, and the hero is a former homicide detective, I threw in a dead body.

I'd been struggling with forward progress on this manuscript, because I knew I had to deal with the murder investigation. I had the body, but it was in a locked room. I had to figure out how it got there, and why the body was left in the heroine's unfinished bakery. For things to work on the 'how' I had to redesign the building in which my heroine's bakery was located, turning it into a duplex arrangement rather than an independent space. This meant creating a new store, and a new character to run it.

Once I had this, things fell into place. And the new character created new conflicts, and the potential for another suspect. But what it meant was that I had to go back and re-describe the building, introduce the character, layer in clues, and make sure she showed up often enough to become a legitimate secondary character instead of a walk-on.

The way things stand, I had to go back over 13 chapters to make sure my continuity was intact, and there were clues and red herrings. I can't imagine having to do that over 30+ chapters. It's enough to make sure everything holds together in those 13 chapters—I couldn't hold enough plot points in my head (or on my tracking boards, for that matter) to ensure I didn't have plot holes big enough to swallow a small village. Had I simply made a note to "Insert New Shop and New Character Here", I know I'd spend more time on the manuscript revisions than on the 13 chapter fixes.

To be fair, for things that won't impact the plot, I will make a notation, such as "Figure out what kind of plant will grow here" or "better description" and take care of it later

So, what kind of writer are you? Can you write straight through and fix everything after you get to the end, or are you obsessed with making sure everything fits together before moving forward?

Reminder – my Smashwords coupons for 50% off on FINDING SARAH and HIDDEN FIRE expire on the 15th. Don't miss your chance to buy both books for what will soon be the price of one. Links on the Deals & Steals Page.

One more thing: My bookshelves are filling up again, so when I hit 375 Google followers, I'm going to give away a book. Or two. Or three. Please help me make my goal. Tell your friends!

Tomorrow, my guest is Judy Alter, who's talking about fame and fortune. See you then.

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Margaret Fieland said...

I'm somewhere in the middle. When I did Nano last year, I got about 15000 words done before I decided I wanted to write in first person instead of third -- so I went back and rewrote it. I couldn't go on until I had the main character's voice clear in my head. If it's major, and it's impacting the way I see and hear the "movie" with the characters and plot unrolling in my mind, then I have to go back and rewrite it. If it's minor, then I note it in the text. I use "FIXME: ..." to make all that stuff easier to go back and find.

Michele said...

I like how you so blithely say, "I threw in a dead body." Funny! Gotta have a little more conflict so...

Pat Dale said...

I suspect most of us write a hybrid of the pants vs Plots systems. I did a NaNo three years ago, and came out with a winner.
One thing, I don't agree that if you write, fix, write, fix, you will have a finished MS at the end. Under all circumstances, in my opinion, you'll have to let it sit for a period and then go back over it. You'll be amazed at what you find when you do that, that will make the final book so much better.

Terry Odell said...

Margaret - Notes in the text are good, and I think you've summed it up. If it impacts the plot, I fix it. If it's a detail that I don't want to waste time obsessing over, I make a note and move on.

Michele - the cure-all for conflict in a mystery!

Pat - Linda Howard has a finished MS at the end. I definitely go back and read the whole thing after giving it a rest.

Juan said...

Ahh we you know, a dead body here and there always adds in a little excitement :)

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

I write exactly like you described in the first paragraph, Terry. Thought I was the only one who did that, but I should have known better! It works well for me because sometimes sudden inspiration strikes and makes things better.

Terry Odell said...

Cindy - whatever works for the author is the 'right' way to go.

Unknown said...

Great analogy! I usually start a story with a list of words, ideas, of which I will go back and forth until I have a rough outline of a story.
90% of the time I hand write the first draft. I'll write a couple of chapters and then edit when I type it out on the computer. I will highlight something if I want to make sure I go back and look at it later. I never know the ending until I get there.
Great blog post, as always.

Joan Reeves said...

Yep, I'm a "write, back up and fix" writer too. Works for me. Like the old cliche says: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Best wishes,
Joan Reeves

Terry Odell said...

Adelle - by hand. Yikes! I'd never be able to read what I wrote, although I do use my post its on my "idea board" as I go.

Joan - I totally agree. We all have our own processes.