Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A mood like peppermints

November is long famous for being a month of serious writing for men and women and boys and girls all across the nation. The month you buckle down, force yourself to pour out a book, and get cracking on the project you've procrastinated on for so long. For me, November has been full of writing. But not the sort you'd think. I haven't written a stitch of Au Contraire. That project is on hold, actually. No, do not fly off the handle. I simply realized that it would not be right to devote all my energies to a new project when I hadn't edited/rewritten my last two books. Therefore I've pulled out all the stops and have been editing, polishing, and taking-a-breath-before-rewriting The Scarlet-Gypsy Song and Fly Away Home. Both of these books have more potential than A Mother for the Seasonings, and though I haven't quite given up on the former, I honestly think either or both of the others will find a home sooner. Therefore it makes sense to focus on editing them and preparing these two very different stories to try their wings.

To be quite honest, it's nerve-wracking. Not only do I have to prepare these two stories physically, I also have to do my research on comp. titles, marketing, agents, and proposals for each. It's like finding I'm suddenly the mother of triplets and they're wailing to be fed at once. Like parenting, I can see I'm in that stage where they'll keep me up at night and I'll get very little sleep. Unlike parenting, I hope my "children" won't contract some strange childhood disease along the way. And they certainly won't cut teeth. At least, let's hope not. Being bitten by a story? That seems a tad twisted. All this to say, I thought I'd share with you a little of how I go about rewriting/editing. 

First off, I indulge my vanity and read through my favorite parts of the story. If I see a glaring problem, I fix it, but this stage is the feel-good stage of the process. I let myself enjoy having finished the book, and I immerse myself in the world of Scarlettania or 1950's NYC.

Then I read through the entire book again. Very. Very. Slowwwwwwwllllyyyyy. I often whisper aloud the words as I read them, making sure they taste right on the tongue. There are some sentences that look fine on paper but sound strange when you read them aloud. I don't like awkward writing like that, and I always make sure to change it when I can. I keep a weather eye out for POV slips. I ask myself questions:

Is this dialog going anywhere?

Whose head are we in here?

Would he have reacted that way?

Would a girl in the 1950's have used that word?

I keep an eye out for odd endings to sentences. In the case of historical fiction, I make myself like an artist dabbing on finishing touches of paint to his masterpiece. I sprinkle a liberal supply of historical tid-bits into the story. Phrases. Jokes. Places. Pop culture references--one of my favorite parts of polishing up the historical novel. I try to go through Round One pretty quickly. If I move through at a nice trot I'll be able to catch pacing mistakes easier. Also, I'll be reading it at the pace most readers would. I'm not nit-picking. I'm getting the general flavor of the story and fixing the obvious flaws.

After I've done a good, brisk run-through I coerce certain friends of mine into reading the book as it is and suggesting changes, critiquing the changes I've made, and generally running the manuscript through a wringer. We aren't running it through a sieve yet, but we're definitely serious now. Sometimes the friends suggest drastic changes that would require massive amounts of rewriting... (gulp) but I take their criticism into consideration and even lean toward applying it. After I've reviewed all the criticism and thought through the options and the cause-and-effect of making the changes, it's time to start Round Two.

I read through the book again, mentally marking weak spots. Scenes that seemed to promise a revival later on the plot and are never referenced again. There are decisions to make. Am I going to keep the scene and tie it in, or delete the scene and replace it with something else? What themes are running through the book? Are they strong throughout? Why did I drop the magazine subject half-way through the plot? That's stupid. Round Two is the Humiliation Stage. The moment I begin to think my writing stinks and I'll never make it to publication. I'm over it. The plot. The characters. (Except for Mr. Barnett. He's a dear and I'd marry him myself if possible.) But I press on. Through the swirling dusk of my brain, I know it's worth it. I straggle through to the end and turn round, breathless and panting, my cravat askew. Often my mood will have gone south. I then write little scribblings of how I'm feeling and laugh over them with a wry smile:

She was in a mood like peppermints. A cold mood. A tingly mood. And she sucked it to herself, wishing she was labeled "curiously strong mint" for good measure to ward off anyone of a weak constitution.

After I've cleaned my sword from battle in Round Two, it's time to move on to Round Three. Round Three for me entails a lot of general clean up. Smoothing of scene transitions. Touching up here and there of dialog. Lengthening internal dialog. Adding an observation or two through that conversation. Checking facts for the third or fourth time. Adding or lengthening description where the setting is a bit obscure. Renaming this character. Referencing that earlier chapter. Round Three is a peaceful haven compared to that horrid but priceless Round Two.

Round Four is generally all I need. All major things have been mopped up. Ideally I've got more people to read my story and a bit more criticism. I compare these new reactions to the reactions of the first round. Apply changes as needed. Spit-shine the last bit. It is finished.

Now a brief respite and the treat an afternoon of reading without bringing out my laptop once. I know I'll soon have to start work on the querying process, but for now I've done well. This is the lull before the storm, and I enjoy it while I can. Often my mood will be that of a martyr's. I feel quiet, avenged, content. I sit back and enjoy the brief sense of victory. Told you it was worth it.


Jack said...

You're editing sounds like the same process I go through.
You will be traditional publishing? I assumed this as you said agent. I know of some authors who helped me when I thought of going this way. I could give you their names if you like. They gave me a lot of helpful pointers.

Rachel Heffington said...

I'd love that, Jack! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachel! I tagged you over at my blog