Monday, April 5, 2010

8 Months in Hell, or: How I Revise

Every time I’ve sat down with the intention to write a blog over this past month, I’ve immediately reprimanded myself for not revising instead. I type out a first sentence to a potential post, but then I hear the devil on my shoulder nagging me, “But you know Chapter 4 could use some trimming today...” I quickly look to my left shoulder for help, but the angel just points to the little bastard on the right and says, “Don’t look at me, listen to that guy.”

So I decided that it was only fair to share an overview of the grueling, turbulent, but always rewarding revision process to which I’ve subjected WILDEFIRE over the past few months.

PHASE 1: Assassinating Similes Does Not = Assimilation
My first drafts love to binge on strange similes… like a sugar-high toddler at a cake convention. But you can only have so many “As if…” clauses in your book before you’ve written a sequel to Clueless, and so I sadly pare them down to just the ones I simply cannot live without.

Okay, and maybe a few more.

PHASE 2: Seek and Destroy
When you’re writing a novel of 90,000 words, it’s inevitable: you are going to repeat yourself. Accept it. Sometimes it’s a single word (I’ve discovered after the umpteenth revision that I really like the words dart, roar, and plunge. Oy. Thank god for the thesaurus.) And because we all like to think that we’re masters of suspense, I tend to notice a lot of “sequencing” words when the action gets heavy. I’ve trained myself well to only sparingly use the word “suddenly,” but the initial draft of WILDEFIRE overdosed on “finally.” I managed to cut these by 70% (yes, I calculated this) which means that 7 times out of 10, the word is completely unnecessary.

Thank heavens for Microsoft Word’s “Find” function.

PHASE 3: The Broken Record
But sometimes it’s not as simple as reaching for the thesaurus or hitting Control+F—sometimes we over-rely on sentence structures. Granted there are only so many ways you can contort a sentence and have it sound natural. Sure, the sentence might on first read sound great… until you realize that sentence structure X has appeared three times in as many pages. THIS IS WHY SECOND READERS ARE IMPORTANT. I’m too myopic to see a lot of these in my own writing, but I’m fortunate to have a writer friend whose specialty is ferreting these out of my manuscript.

PHASE 4: Sweet Emotion
This has been the trickiest of all of them. When I first started writing WILDEFIRE, I didn’t want this to be a fantasy story first, and a human story second—you know the type, where the world becomes, as a character, more important than the other players in the book. In essence, I wanted WILDEFIRE to read like a contemporary realistic YA novel that just happened to include fantastical elements.

However, I categorically refused to write this in first-person, and absolutely not in present tense. That isn’t meant as a slight on those who write from that POV; many have mastered this perspective, and the success of the first-person voice in the young-adult arena is irrefutable. But I am something of a purist and believe that it’s valuable for a writer to conquer the third-person voice before he goes indulging his character’s every thought and whim for 90,000 words. Let’s face it—I’m 25-years-old. Not only have I yet to “conquer” any of the mountains of writing, but I don’t even consider myself at base camp yet.

My greatest challenge in the final round of revisions was to strike a balance between distance and intimacy, to utilize my limited third-person POV while still gleaning enough of Ashline’s thoughts to develop a friendship between her and reader. Because if you get to the last page of this book and you don’t feel compassion for Ashline (hey, that kind of rhymed), then I haven’t done my job as a writer.

AND it will be awfully difficult to write the sequel.


  1. No, I'm not stalking you. lol I just wanted to know a bit more about your writing process since you actually talk about it. Not enough writers actually share the way they work so that's what's got me fascinated and has me turning the pages of your blog. (That, and anyone who can keep me laughing for a whole day over a silly video gets kudos for cheering me up at a rather hard spot in life right now. So thanks for that.)

    I found this entry really helpful. I hadn't put much thought into the balancing of distance and intimacy from the third person POV. Good tip!

  2. I see I'm not the only one with a belated comment. :)

    A lot of what you wrote hit close to home for me. My book is like yours in that it's a realistic depiction with fantastical elements told from the 3rd person POV. And I don't know where I'd be without a Thesaurus and the Find application on Word!

  3. It turns out my favorite word in the whole wide world is "just." I just like writing just, like just now. I also adore "finally." Most horrifying of all, I have certain predilection for "vaguely." Not all the time, not like my full on obsession with just, but even so - VAGUELY. The Find function is a godsend, but it offers up some disturbing reveals, as well.

    In other news, I adore your blog. If Wildefire is even half as awesome as this, it's going to be a huge success.