Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Magic? What Magic?
Note to self: find a better word than "figment"--implies smallness, when, in fact, Stewardsville takes up a huge chunk of my brain.
Sooner or later, however, I must step back, take in the vista of the world beyond my computer screen, and roll up my sleeves. For me, editing is not magical--it's structural and mechanical. If you'd like to believe in the fantasy of the magical writer channeling entire stories a la Jack Kerouac ON THE ROAD, stop reading here.
Otherwise, I'm about to show you the inside of the top hat and roll up my sleeve so you can see where I've hidden the coins.
My first drafts are hot messes. I'm a pure pantser, which means that my first draft is 100,000 words of plotting. My characters talk back to me (and they're never encouraging). My descriptive passages are chock-full of "notes to self" to find better words than I've written--and more often than not, I hack those paragraphs out anyway. But, after one good novel and a few, ahem, false starts, I have process that works for me.
Step 1: Write the crapdraft. 100,000 words minimum. This is the time to stick in all of those pretty little side episodes that don't lead directly from beginning to end. 75% of them will get deleted later. 25% will become major plot turning points.
Step 2: Trim the toenails. Run spell check. Cut/replace to create contractions. Jump around looking for squiggly lines and see if you can make them go away.
Step 3: Cut the hair. Eliminate most dialogue tags. Cut variations of "to know", "to realize" or "to think." Do a document-wide frequency check for words and phrases (God bless the creators of WriteWords ) and edit the overused ones away.
Step 4: Amputate fingers and toes. By now, you've been all over the document at least two or three times. You've already gotten a feel for those paragraphs and scenes that really do not work at all. Move them over to a "bits and pieces" file because you can't stand the idea of eliminating hundreds or even thousands of words at a time.
By this point, I'm narrowing in on a specific word count target--about 85K. Why 85K? By 85% I'm at the target length for the final book. The story of Stewardsville itself is infinite--every character is the potential hero or heroine of a subplot or even a novel of his own. At some point, therefore, each book's content must be an arbitrary choice, or I'll never see my real-life family again. My hero and heroine get 85K to tell the story of their love with the backup singers of their choice. After that, it's some other couple's turn to take over my brain.
Step 5: Wipe up the blood and see what's left. Create a scene list (I divide my chapters out at this point as well). Identify the page, the POV character, the action of the scene and the hook that will take it forward. Discover that you've been in the same POV for 50 pages. Discover that several scenes are pointless. Discover that others are missing. Discover that your scenes have neither action or nor hook. Drink Scotch.
Step 6: Two-day hangover.
Step 7: Go back to page one and fix the problems you identified in Step 5. Revamp that scene list as you go because that's the core of your true synopsis, if you need one (as opposed to that thing you plotters write before you write the book that you CALL a synopsis).
Step 8: Send your file to Kinkos (or whatever they're calling themselves these days) and print it out in hard copy. Read it out loud. Read it backwards. Mark the heck out of it and fix those problems, too.
Step 9: Run spell check again just so you don't embarrass yourself in front of your beta readers, then send it off. And guess what? You'll embarrass yourself anyway.
Step 10: Do what they tell you (or don't--working with critique partners is a whole 'nother blog post).
It's a bloody, messy, unsexy process. But when you're finished, your rough lump of brain vomit is a pretty, polished, princess-cut diamond that glitters especially well under the influence of scotch.
Her husband gave Keri her first romance novel to read, which unleashed a passion. Several years and a couple thousand novels later, Keri took up her laptop and began writing her own books.
By day, she is a mild-mannered yoga and Oriental dance instructor. By night she creates mayhem and magic in small-town paranormal romance novels like her award-winning debut, Stone Kissed, coming soon from Carina Press.
To find Keri online, please follow @KeriStevens on twitter, fan Keri Stevens on facebook or visit her at www.keristevens.com.