Thursday, September 24, 2009

Revise, Revise, Revise

Hi Everybody,

I have to say one of the most satisfying parts of being a novelist is writing The End. You've created a whole new story. Mostly, after finishing a book my first inclination is to put my feet up, grab a cup of tea, and veg out for awhile. (I'd love to include go for a ride, but until my back is healed the rest of the way, that marvelous option is out).

The euphoria lasts a few days, sometimes a week. Then it's time to take another look. Uh-oh. Here, for me, is where reality sets in. As I read through the work and get feedback from trusted colleagues, I begin to see the first writing of the book as what it is - clay to be molded into a finished product.

It's amazing how many iterations of a story I go through in it's development. My current, recently completed work, is just beginning the revision process (i.e. raw clay. Over four hundred manuscript pages of it.) Sometimes when I go back I love the characters but the pace is too slow or some pieces of the story just don't hang together right or are confusing to me as I re-read them. (This is one of my not infrequent 'What was I thinking?' moments). This time I'm happy with the pace and the story hangs together well (after over six months of research and outlining. Whew!) The problem with this story is in characterization.

I've read reams of how-to information for authors about characterization. What it all boils down to for me, really, is whether the characters are inside my head or not. I had a nagging feeling all through this story that my characters weren't coming alive for me. The background, the plot, the suspense were all there, but I wasn't really connected to my main character.

Sure enough, when I got some trusted feedback, it was all about ways to improve the characterization. I spent a week rethinking the story, which is a contemporary fantasy, and finally went with my gut. The story is really best suited to be a young adult fantasy. I ripped apart huge amounts of the background I'd put together on the main characters and reworked them as teenagers. All of a sudden I was inside the head of my main character (in part because she has so many of the same feelings I did at sixteen). It's amazing! Scenes primarily devoted to character development that I wasn't totally happy with before are now flowing at amazing speed.

I'm sure there's lots of ways to describe why the characterization is so improved, but to me it's simple. Now I love my characters. I understand them and I'm inside their heads and their hearts.

Hope everyone had a wonderful summer and is ready for a happy, fun-filled fall season!

All the best,


Laura Crum said...

I agree, Mary. Unless the characters in my books are alive for me, my story is flat and boring. I solve this by basing most of my charaxters on people I have known (don't tell). I tweak them and "hybridize" them with other people in order to fit their roles in my story, but whenever I'm confused about what a given character would say or do, I imagine his/her "inspiration" and am immediately clear on what needs to happen. Whenever I have tried to create characters out of thin air, I almost inevitably find them dull, and the story just doesn't work.

I think the teen fantasy is a great idea. Good luck with the revision. I know its a lot of work. Though for me, writing the first draft is the hardest part. At least you've got all that material out there to work on.

Mary Paine said...

I won't tell...great to know, though. I'll have to look around and see who I know that I can hybridize. : ) Thanks for the encouragement!


Nan said...

I can relate to your comments on characters. Unless they can become real people to me, like the kind I could actually meet, I'm never satisfied. Often I find I'm asking myself 'Is this how this character would react in this scenario?' I do this a lot when I'm driving or riding. Somehow I can think better during those times. Also at night when I should be sleeping! I hate it but I can get my best 'a-ha moments' in the middle of the night! Dang!