Rewriting, Part Two… Less ‘Aaargh’

Two months? Really?

Yes. I was on vacation. And when I wasn’t on vacation, I was goofing off. Poor excuses, but the best I’ve got.

I finished the 2nd draft in mid-July, and put it aside for a while and did some writing on my next book or books, “Tommy Collins: One Lad’s Adventures.” More on that later.


The thing I’m just now finding out about rewriting is that, with the characters firmly in my head, I can make changes more easily. I touched on that in my previous post, but what other authors say is really true: I can hear Alex, Sara, Mr. Crumley and others speaking when I write.

A small example: in the earliest chapters, I had Alex say things like, “I think she was trying to smile.” But Alex, as I now understand him, doesn’t know (or even much care) what other people are trying to do. He only sees what they actually do, and how it affects him. When Sara’s face turns red, he remembers what he’s learned: a red face might mean she is angry, or embarrassed, or even exerting herself.

Only when she punches him hard on the side of his head can he figure it out.

Another example: Alex is only comfortable in a narrow range of experiences, things he’s done before, or knows how to do. Things he calls normal. But everything in his world is turned upside down. Nothing is normal. How does he keep from curling up into a fetal ball?

On a ride to somewhere new, Alex takes the trip via computer, mapping out his route, finding familiar landmarks and calling up images of the streets on the way.

With the story pretty much set, fixing the early events (that needed the most work) to flow into the later ones becomes easier, too. More on this next time.

Rewriting…Arrrgh! – Part One

Well into my 2nd draft, and already making copious notes for the 3rd. I thought this was going to be easier. I keep coming across writing I thought was so clever the first time around, and discovering that it just doesn’t work.

The quotation I keep reciting is “in writing you must kill all your darlings.” Attributed to various authors since the early 20th century, including Faulkner, Oscar Wilde and Anton Chekov, my favorite version is from Stephen King, who wrote, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

With that and the comments of my writer friend, Sheryl (“reads like a TV writer”), in mind, I took a look at my early chapters. By George, Sheryl’s right! I give my main character, Alex, nice, neat, straightforward exposition, to get us into the story, forgetting that no one, even brilliant Asperger’s kids, thinks or talks like that.

I need to live in the skin of my characters, not just look at them from outside and pretend that’s what I’m doing. Alex will not ever make it easy for the reader to figure out what he’s doing. He often doesn’t know it himself, and isn’t likely to tell us when he does.

Speaking in your character’s voice

I write fast sometimes, and fall into the habit of short, clipped sentences or fragments. But the work for me is (since this is told in two first-person voices), to keep track of my character’s different personalities. Alex is thoughtful, analytic, even hesitant. Sara is quick-tempered, impatient and not willing to reveal much of herself. Rewriting means going back and matching style to character.

First Draft Feedback, & What I Learned

I finished my first draft in early March, and sent it to several friends and fellow writers for comments. I wanted some feedback before plunging into the rewrite.

I had some big picture questions—i.e., is this part explained enough? Do I need to show more of that?—and got some useful suggestions, and mostly positive appraisals.

I told people, “Don’t think about being kind. Kind is when everyone gets a medal just for showing up. If something sucks, tell me.”

Then I got a response from a good friend and writer. Her opening:

I’m going to be honest with you — it reads like a TV writer. It took me YEARS… to lose my obvious TV writing chops. Your writing is crisp, clean, factual. You lay it all out requiring as few words as possible. It’s apparent from the opening sentence. You are more focused on the setting, the plot and the tricks than you are on your character.

Ouch! The adage, ‘be careful what you wish for,’ came to mind. After feeling sorry for myself for a day or so, I began to take a good look at what I’d written. She was right. I was so eager to plunge into the events of my story, I’d forgotten about getting into the head of Alex, my main character.

She had recommended a couple of YA authors to look at, so I read their books (FYI, Rogue, by Lynn Miller-Lachman, & Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King).

Ouch! More feeling sorry for myself. These were so good, I despaired of ever even approaching such excellent quality.

It took me another day or so to realize where I’d gone off the track: to familiarize myself with current Young Adult fiction, I’d been reading whatever was cheap or free online (I had a free trial subscription to a book club, and my Amazon Prime account provides 3 at a time).

The books & my friend’s comments were a wake-up call. I’d been lazy, falling back on stuff I already knew how to do well, and quickly. The Story Store is going to be better than that.

The moral is, if you want to write crap, read crap. if you want to write better, read better.

I’ll let you know how the 2nd draft is going.

Outline or no outline, part three

After a long absence (almost a month), here’s the last bit on outlining.

As I mentioned, I’m determined to have an outline before I start writing “When We Dream…” That doesn’t mean that I won’t write scenes, events, chapters, character biographies – another topic for here, maybe! – while I’m outlining.

I think that, with most or all writers, it’s would be impossible NOT to jump between parts of a project. Many writers, myself included, jump between projects all the time. If I get stuck on one, I can turn to the other.

But I feel like I spent too much time writing things that aren’t going to be in the final draft, the one that goes out to agents and publishers. A scene came to mind, it seemed like a cool idea, so I wrote it, not knowing where or even if it would fit into the story.

Sometimes that worked, often it didn’t. My first draft suffers now from a kind of uneven progression in the “rising action” part of Freytag’s Pyramid,

Freytag's Pyramid

which you can learn about in college drama class or here. A few friends have pointed this out, and I’m addressing it in my revision.

Something about the innate human need for stories includes (I think) the need for suspense, complications, and reversals to build as the story progresses. Writing in out-of-order chunks can undercut that. Sure it’s easy to fix: I moved some chunks around and cut others. But I think it’ll be easier to get the story in order first.

I’ll let you know how that goes.

Outline or no outline, Part Two

Here’s the “weird reason” I wound up writing The Story Store without outlining. To begin with, the title came to me in a dream.

In my dream, I was sitting across a desk from Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) in what I guess was her office. She put down a script of mine she was reading, turned to me and said, “This is pretty good. Did you write it?”

I got all snippy and replied, “No. I got it from the Story Store.”

Many people don’t know this: a question writers are often asked, is, “where do you get your ideas?” Writers sometimes answer, “why, where everyone else gets them. The Story Store,” or “the writers store,” “the idea shop,” or somewhere similar. It’s a gag, not a real place.

Still half-asleep, the story of The Story Store started to fill my head. I got up and wrote fifteen pages of notes. The next day, I wrote more notes. Alex, my main character, popped up in my head as if he’s always been there. Sara, Mr. Crumley, and Benedict the writer, they all just came to me, like unexpected but welcome guests.

I couldn’t NOT start writing it.

Still, it felt like driving at night with no headlights. I got nervous, especially on days when I couldn’t think of what to write next. I wrote endless notes, started two or three outlines, created timelines for my characters, and made lists of events as I thought of them.

Nothing worked.

Lacking an order for my events, I often wound up writing a scene, or several scenes, as separate documents. It was like designing my own jigsaw puzzle, but without having the complete picture. I’d decide where they were supposed to fit in later.

Some of them fit into the Recycle Bin.

But, in the end, I had a book, and a lot of outtakes for the director’s cut. And 35,000 words of notes.

The book I’ve started writing now – working title, “When We Dream, Where Do We Go?” – is beginning life as an outline. I’ll see how it goes.

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