26 June, 2013
Re-writing is a Glorious Bastard
Something I said on twitter a little while back inspired this post. "Re-writing is exciting when you hit a scene that you don't have to change much. That excitement is your enemy."
As many of you know, I'm re-writing my novel. My agent's feedback was generally along the lines of, "this is decent, but it should be better." I like to think she means that I should be able to do better. That interpretation is more convenient for my ego.
Anyway, there's a rant-worthy lesson in this. With every word of this post my intention is to beat myself in the face with a truth I've known for many years, that I struggle everyday to remind myself of. I know for a fact I'm not the only writer with this problem.
I'll take my own work as an example. In this draft, I don't have to change as much as before, but I should. I'm improving the tautness of the plot, essentially. For instance, one of my characters seemed a bit of a doormat and I'm making her into something more frightening. She was supposed to be frightening for being a doormat, calling my main character forwards like a siren into something I won't reveal here. But such a call is hard for the reader to hear. A siren should be active, distracting. She can be subtle and coaxing, too, but the reader must feel her ability. It's my main character who should fail to understand, not the reader. That's where the dramatic tension come from. You'll understand if you read the book, and if you don't want to buy it from anywhere traditional, I'm sure I'll accept cash.
Things in my draft are changing. The aforementioned change is quite stark, but most are subtle. Not many scenes need a re-write. Not many chapters need re-thinking. But every tweak in a story should influence the entirety of it. The best stories are perfectly molded around their own convictions.
A simple example: if I decide a character has a little more backbone, I have to examine every single line of her dialogue. Most of what she says could remain the same for the purpose of plot momentum, but not plot tension. For empathy with her, and indeed the entire book, the method of her action must reflect her motivation, even where that change appears slight. Everything begs examination.
After re-working her, every character's response around her begs examination. In actuality, I have to examine every scene that has anything to do with her, which in a good book will be all of them, if only subtly, for the simple reason that she's a vital character. I've said before that a novel is like a symphony. A short story is like a rock song. The symphony might be more complex, but each element supports each element much the same.
None of this is stuff will I have to do to make my book readable, or even good, but it's all necessary to make a book great. I love the idea of having an advance, starting my life as a professional author et cetera, but I must love the idea of making great art more. I have to write what I would want to read, i.e. what I think deserves to exist.
I never said I could make a great book. I have no idea. But if I don't try, what the smeg am I making art for? If I'm satisfied, by nature, to produce only that which is necessary, to just balance things until they make sense, why not be an accountant? No, art isn't about perfection. Perfection is a word with no reality whatsoever except in arithmetic. Art is about trying our best. And it's exciting coming across a section of my book that I don't really have to change. The day I wrote that tweet (I hate that phrase) I could have gone through 15,000 words of my story if I'd wanted. Instead I did 1,000, about half of what I usually get through in a day. Excitement was my enemy, so I made myself examine everything twice as hard.
I know there comes a point where you're doing this:
(I had to work this awesome image in somewhere. I couldn't find the artist's name, sadly.)
There's a point where you're recreating yourself without any regard to your intended creation. That's the point where it's time to stop, send this book away, and write a different one. I've been trying to write this book for a year, but it's my first decent one, and I want to learn the skills that I'll go on to use later. More than that, though, I want all my books to reflect my best efforts.