Thursday, January 24, 2013

In which I eviscerate

Laurie Halse Anderson (SPEAK, CHAINS, WINTERGIRLS) tweeted something the other day that made me spew coffee. In part, she said, “Am busy eviscerating the middle part of my book. Ink & guts are everywhere.”

Since I was slicing out whole scenes of my manuscript, I felt a bit bloody myself.

For a long time, I knew the beginning of my story was weak, didn’t capture the protagonist’s voice as it shows up later. I’d also been told by some crit partners that the love interest was coming across as a creep. I tweaked. I revised. I subtracted a bit here, added a touch there.

 None of it worked. The unworkable scenes had to go. *cut* *slash* *burn*

I let my imagination run and a new idea popped up. It added depth to the characters and the world-building.

Some months ago, I had an amazing crit and brainstorming session with Kathleen Duey (SKIN HUNGER, SACRED SCARS). One piece of advice she gave me was to start over with a blank page. I thought I did by changing the protagonist’s POV from third to first, getting under her skin more and by altering some structural elements of the manuscript. But I still tried to save a lot of the original scenes. That was a mistake. It undermined the voice by dragging in elements from earlier versions.

So now I’m in the daunting position of a true rewrite, not tweaking. Amazingly, I’m looking forward to it, because the voice is stronger, the story is more alive and compelling. Already more than fifty pages in and feeling really good about what’s happening.

I found some other great comments on rewrite:

“I've found the best way to revise your own work is to pretend that somebody else wrote it and then to rip the living shit out of it.” – Don Roff (ZOMBIES: A RECORD OF THE YEAR OF INFECTION)

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.” – Elie Wiesel (NIGHT)

“Books aren’t written--they’re rewritten. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it.”—Michael Crichton (JURASSIC PARK)

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” – Kelly Barnhill (THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK)


Liza said...

Well, since I'm on Version 14, I'll say thanks for including the quote from Michael Crichton! Eviscerate away!

Unknown said...

I'm going to just have to imagine the spilled ink. Computers do have their drawbacks.

Yvonne Osborne said...

As much as we know that 90pct of writing is rewriting, it seems we can never hear it enough. Good luck with your rewrite. It is a powerful addiction once you get going.

Another saying I believe to be true: "The only writers who fail are the ones who quit." Don't ever quit. And I promise I won't either!

Julie Dao said...

It seems like it's the season for rewriting and revising!!! I know you'll do a skillful job with the evisceration. It hurts to cut words out and change direction, but it's worth it you know the book will be that much better!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Liza: I lose track of versions since I sometimes rename the story and start again! I'm just glad to know I'm in good company. ;)

Laraine: Ha! But the pain, oh, that remains the same, I think.

Yvonne: It's a deal, my friend. No quit.

Julie: It is worth it. We'll make it to the finish line, I'm sure of it!

storyqueen said...

Letting go of a scene is sometimes the hardest thing (dealing with this right now myself--and I don't want to let it go.....) but the quote from Kelly Barnhill is encouraging. Yes, something new always grows!

The fact that you are so excited about re-envisioning it proves that you are making the right decision.

Best wishes to you, my brave friend!


Wendy Lu said...

Hi Tricia! Rewriting is always a little scary, I think, because the goal is to come up with something different than before - different and better.

I hope rewriting goes well. :) Have a great weekend!

~Wendy Lu

The Red Angel Blog

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shelley: I knew you'd understand. I'm sorry you're eviscerating, too. I do hope it's the right decision. I second guess myself all the time.

Wendy: Hi! Yeah, it's all about something better, and one can only hope it is...:)

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hi, Tricia,

I am SOOOO there with you. I cut my first novel down from 125k to 60k! I am still working on revisions. After CP's get their hands on it, I am panicking.... I have a horrible feeling that I may have to start rewrite it completely, like you.

I am thrilled you are happy about the results! The problem with me is this is the 60th plus revision. I am not kidding, The LAST thing I want to do is rewrite it from start to finish. We shall see. I do love the story and its characters. My CP's are awesome, so I know they would not steer me wrong.

ALL THE BEST on your continues success!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Michael: Whoa, you did do some major pruning! I hope you don't have to start yet again, either. One thing I've learned, though, is I keep improving as I rewrite, keep understanding the process better, and all the tips I've picked up along the way become second nature.
Good luck with your CPs!

Donna said...

Wonderfully encouraging in a dark sort of way. I'm getting up the courage to do the same. Great quotes. I'm so glad you're pleased with the new pages.

Carolina M. Valdez Schneider said...

That's a really accurate way to look it. It does feel a bit bloody sometimes, doesn't it?

My first two/three drafts are almost always complete rewrites and thereafter I'll often rewrite huge sections. It's not until I edge in on the 8th-10th (or more) draft (depending on the story) that the slicing and dicing starts to slow down. And surprisingly, revision even in the 2nd-5th drafts or whatever, as hard as they are, aren't that painful for me. I don't mind that heavy rewriting. It's the first draft that kills me. LOL

Phoenix said...


I am not good at eviscerating. (hence my long blog posts.) But I am at a point in my life, and in my art, where things do need to get very bloody indeed.

I hope I'm as brave as you are when the time comes. I've never been good at murdering my darlings.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Donna: It does take courage to completely delete a scene, but if it's not working, it's not working. I love the quotes, too.

Carolina: I feel like I need a butcher's apron. It's reassuring to know you're an old hand at this work. ;)

Phoenix: I tried to do plastic surgery on them. Not pretty. So bye-bye scenes, hello new ones!

Sarah Laurence said...

Fabulous post on editing! I shall bookmark this. I love Wiesel's quotation especially. I actually love revising and cutting. First drafts, especially openings, are the hardest for me. I finally nailed the first chapter of my new book and am moving on, even though I doubt it will remain chapter 1 in the final draft. A previous false start is going into backstory. Good luck with your edits! Sounds like you have great crit partners too.

Unknown said...

I'm doing the same with one of my books. My beta's loved it and weren't bothered by my mc. Not so for agents. I decided to changed the book from YA and NA and completely rewriting the story. And that means changing the mc, too. :D

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Sarah: I do have great crit partners. It's one of the lovely perks of being a writer--the people you get to know and work with.
I don't know how many times I've rewritten the opening, and although I love this new one, who knows? ;)

Stina: Sometimes one's head spins with the feedback, right?! I'm glad to see you're smiling about it as you move on.
so here's me as I open the ms today: :D:D:D

Anonymous said...

Excellent post!!!!

Bish Denham said...

I'm still in the midst of writing this monster. I can't even THINK of revision. And yet... I've already change POV and added a critical plot-line I didn't include in the first 11 chapters... so there I go.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Thanks, LB!

Bish: Sounds like you've got your hands full. Wishing you lots of energy!

Faith Pray said...

Great words on rewriting! I keep staring at my disemboweled story and wondering which of the three severed heads is going to be sewn back on, hopefully stronger. What was that plot book you were reading recently? I know yours is going to be a beautiful revision.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Faith: Oh, what an image you just gave me of severed heads! I can see them rolling on the floor or sitting in a row like hats on a stand. :)
Plot book. I haven't been doing my homework lately, but I think you mean The Plot Whisperer Workbook. I'm going on a writing retreat soon and taking it with!