March 01, 2004

retracing my steps

I知 on page 332 of my novel and I just skidded to a halt. I知 not worried; it痴 happened before and may even happen again, though I now have something like one hundred pages left to write, so maybe not.

One of the ways I know I need to take a break from the headlong rush forward is what痴 been spilling out of my fingers onto the screen. I can see myself using tricks I learned from screenwriting. Have the characters do something with their hands or even their whole bodies. Have them fiddle. People don稚 just stand there and talk, after all. And then have that action, whatever it is, inform the scene. Which is fine, and I致e done it in scenes and sequences that have come out the better for it.

But when I start writing scenes where a character who normally has tremendous dignity leans back in his chair and almost topples over, when a scene or two later, I have another character step on a glossy magazine cover and go splat on her ass, I know I知 letting myself get sloppy. It痴 not necessarily terrible writing. For a romantic comedy. But that kind of near-slapstick has no place in the world of this novel. And the fact that I知 sticking it in there means my brain is getting tired and I知 stepping a little too far outside the minds of my characters. I知 writing from the outside in. I知 losing my sureness, my sense of truth. So I知 stepping back further. I知 going back sixty-some pages to the last point I left off in my first tweaking pass.

I generally try to avoid intensive rewrites during the first draft. I think you can get into perfectionist mode and stifle yourself, rewriting the same chapters obsessively instead of moving forward. But that doesn稚 mean I知 waiting until I知 all done to go back through the so-raw material. I do, after all, want my select few readers to give feedback, let me know I知 still on the right path. Their input has helped me find my way through this. I want that. I want it soon, actually. But if I show them the pages the way they come out of my head the first go-round, I know those pages will come back to me with lots of ???? and 的 don稚 understand notations. Because it doesn稚 always make sense, what I write. I mean, it does to me and it will to other people too once I clean the prose up a bit.

Today, for instance, I deleted a paragraph that spelled to much out (also known as hitting you over the head with the idea), dumped a couple of sentences that sounded like they said something but actually didn稚, and altered a whole bunch of wording. Sometimes not necessarily because it was bad, either. I changed 澱right rhinestone sparkle of her to 途hinestone shine of her, not because I hated the first phrase but because it evoked something beautiful and magical and what I wanted was an implicit tawdriness in this woman as seen through another痴 eyes. Something as seemingly benign as that small phrase can give the wrong message about an entire relationship. Later I値l rewrite for the bigger issues and still later I値l pay attention to cadence and rhythm, but this rewrite is for sense and story flow. Does it parse? Does it say what I want it to say? Does that emotion, that thought, that action work in that spot? If yes, then move on. If no, then tweak until it does.

I知 doing it because I need the breather and because I want my readers to have something to read. But this rewrite, smoothing out the rough edges, tracking the story throughlines, also does something important for me. Because by the time I get to where I left off, I値l be back inside the action. Exactly where I need to be.

Posted by Tamar at March 1, 2004 10:15 PM