"For the sake of humanity, join in Bitterwood's revolt." - Kirkus Reviews

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Rewrite Blues

No more word count updates for a while. I finished my first draft, at least to the point where I'm able to start the second draft. I didn't write the last two scenes of the book. I know broadly what happens in each of them, but decided to let them simmer a while longer before I commit to certain events. The ending(s) I've outlined make sense and are satisfying conclusions to the storylines, but I'm now weighing the ramifications of possibly twisting these endings. I don't want Dragon Forge to be a cliff-hanger book. I want it to be a complete reading experience, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Still, I have to be mindful that there's a book following this, and one possible ending that has caught my imagination kills off a character I have plans for in the third book. Luckily, the final deadline is over two months away. I have two long drives coming up this week in which to ponder events, twelve hours to World Fantasy in New York, then twelve hours back. I had originally planned to fly, but some last second plot twists in my own life turned my plane tickets into useless scraps of paper. So, now I'm driving, a full cumulative 24 hours behind the wheel.

Luckily, writing is more than just typing. Twelve hours of monotony behind the wheel can sometimes be a writer's best vacation.

Even in the second draft, daydreaming is important. I've got six chapters finished and many of them have entirely new scenes that I've reimagined to better stage the characters for future events I wasn't fully aware of in the first draft. I'm happy with the way things are shaping up, but still a little frightened by all the work left ahead of me. Second drafts are more nerve-wracking than first drafts. My first drafts are all about momentum. I just try to pour as many words on the page as quickly as possible. I don't worry about formatting. I change continuity on a whim (one of my characters changes from a teenage boy to a teenage girl to an adult woman over the first draft as the role I needed her to play in the final scene shifted). If I'm writing dialogue that sounds clunky, I don't stress out. I'll catch it in the second draft.

The hardest part of the first draft is pulling all the raw material for the story out of thin air. (I need Pet to talk to a fellow survivor of the Free City. What's his name? What's his history? What's he look like?) Even with an outline, it's impossible to plan for all the people, places, and events that go onto the page, and 90% of the time I never know the exact shape of my scene until I sit down and actually start writing it. Ill sit down, thinking, "In this chapter, Jandra rescues Bitterwood from his injuries and introduces him to Hex." Somehow, I turn that into 5000 words.

The second draft isn't so much an act of creation as an act of refinement. All that continuity and consistancy I didn't worry about the first time around now has to be hammered out. For instance, in my first draft, I had one fight scene early on where Bitterwood had a bow. Then, in a later fight scene, he doesn't have a bow, because I remembered he didn't have one in his final scene in the first novel. So, this draft, I have to make all this consistent, and completely rewrite one of these scenes. On a larger scale, the second draft is where the characters really get locked down. I have a character called Burke the machinist that started the story as a relatively minor player, but kept growing in usefulness as the story advanced. His backstory kept becoming more fleshed out as I wrote about him. Now, all his early scenes will need to be redone from scratch, since I finished the book writing about a different man that I started the book writing about. This always happens (to me, at least) with characters. You start with one idea of them, but the more you write them the more they start exerting their own personalities. The stressful thing about second drafts is that the decisions on this pass will make or break the book. The plot gets tighter. The characters are locked down into their roles. The more you write, the harder it becomes to change things without the whole novel falling apart.

While I do tighten up the prose a lot in the second draft, I try not to get too stressed out by flat and awkward passages. I try to sharpen the dialogue and make the character voices consistent, but a lot of sensual details remains fuzzy. The third draft is where I start stressing about the story at the sentence level.

Man, January is coming at me fast.

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