Monday, January 28, 2013

The Narrative Needle & Other Revision Stories

Doing a major revision is a lot like surgery.

I recently finished a massive revision on a book that I wrote eight years ago. Yep - eight years. It's actually the first YA book I tried writing, after trunking two finished adult mss and a third adult ms that was about a quarter finished. This YA title was a total watershed moment for me, as I sat in my office at work and said to myself, "Mindy, you're a librarian for teens. You're around your target audience forty hours a week and completely immersed in the market. You're kind of an idiot for not writing YA."

And yes, I really was kind of an idiot. So I scribbled down a few ideas and wrote my first YA novel over a period of about eight months. And I've put in a year of editing for every month that I spent writing it.

A lot of that is my own fault. I was practicing another sort of idiocy in not having any crit partners or joining any writer's forums before gleefully sending off queries into the ether for a sub-par ms that was about 30k longer than necessary. But beyond that, I wasn't doing the right thing with pacing, and I was very vague about things that I thought my reader should fill in on their own.

Oh, and also it was written in the wrong tense for the voice I was using. Ahem.

So, like a I said. There's been a year of revising for each month that I wrote it.

This last revision was the most invasive- the equivalent of triple bypass surgery. Typically I revise on the laptop, but this was such a huge undertaking that I printed it out (sorry, trees) and jumped in with my hatchet and red pen.

I ripped the skin off.
I peeled back the muscle.
I found the heart.

And guess what? It was in the wrong place.

Yeah. A major reveal moment that answered a massive question and is the crux of the story was happening about 100 pages too late. You read that right - 100 pages.

So I tore the heart out and moved it to another location. And that meant I had to rewire the entire circulatory system, didn't it? Everything in every scene following that moment had to be re-investigated, as the pivotal moment occurred much earlier now than it had before. Characters knew a vital piece of information much earlier now than they had before- it changed everything.

Circulatory system safely pumping, I got critical with the skeleton. It only makes sense that if you move the heart, the ribcage probably ought to get a little re-arranging as well. And it did. The Crux Moment Movement changed a lot of things, for a lot of characters, and their individual stories needed some tweaking for continuity. There were some bone grafts involved. Some scenes were literally jutting out, saying -- "HEY! I don't fit here anymore!! CONTINUITY ISSUES!! DANGER!! DANGER!!"

Some of those I had to push back into place and graft onto the scenes nearby. Some of them I pulled out entirely and tossed into a bio-waste container. Some were transplanted elsewhere.

I laid the muscle back on, checking to be sure it was attaching to the bones in the right places, not pulling anything out of joint. The skin went back on last, a re-insertion of everything that worked nicely and just had to be the cohesive covering that held everything together.

And with everything in place I whipped out what I call The Narrative Needle. I had squished everything back into a package that was working, but there were still holes, little places where things hadn't grown together quite yet. Things like scene jumps that could conceivably be melded together for flow, or a nice fact-delivering organic bit of dialogue that moved my characters from one scene to the next seamlessly, even if one scene was written eight years ago and the next one was eight minutes old.

With everything tied off, the end result is a much different looking creature than what I made eight years ago.

But everything inside is pumping much more effectively.

3 comments:

Robin Breyer said...

See, this is why my first novel is in the trunk and staying there. I'd rather spend the time working on something new. Still, I am rather fond of that story.

That said, I have a screenplay that I did this to. It was too long and I had to cut it down and I sacrificed a beloved character to do it. Yet, when I think about the overall story and maybe turning it into a novel, it gives me a chance to bring that character back. The question is whether I should. Did the story work fine without her, or was she just too much for the 120 page screenplay. I think that latter so I hope to include her should I ever actually return to that story. That might be a good NaNoWriMo project one of these days.

Mindy, I love the surgery analysis, but this sounds more like a mad scientists project. Kind of a scary image. Very effective.

Carmen said...

Very beautifully put, Mindy.

I'm about to dig into an old manuscript soon, too. Gotta say you've scared me a little. ;)

Mindy McGinnis said...

Robin - Yes. Scary imagery is pretty much how it felt. Lightning crashed as I worked. My distorted shadow was on the wall. I was crazed.... It was awesome.

Carmen - Thank you! Scared is good- that means you're being honest with yourself, which in turn means you won't half-ass it!