Monday, December 10, 2018

The Tragedy of My Latest WIP

A post by Mary Fan
Hey everyone! Mary here, and I'm inadvertently continuing on fellow ATB blogger Kimberly G. Giarratano's theme on revisions

Once upon a time, I thought I had my writing process down. I’d start with oodles of brainstorms, then meticulously plot the story, then outline each chapter so that by the time I started writing, I’d have a pretty solid blueprint for what I was doing. Just add words. What emerged was usually pretty solid, and any revisions that needed to be made would be a relatively simple matter of condensing some parts, expanding others, and cleaning up.

In the past two years or so, I’ve been doing more pantsing—that is, writing without a specific plan and just seeing where the story goes. I’d still have something of an outline in my head, though—at least I’d know the major plot points and the shape/direction of the story. But perhaps more importantly, I had a solid sense of what the voice would be.

That’s where I thought I was with this latest WIP, which is a novel-length origins story for two characters I’d already written about in multiple short stories. This should be easy, I thought. I already knew the characters and the world, and all I needed was a plot. And so I hashed out a basic outline—the book was a mystery, so I figured all I needed was to map out who the suspects were and how the characters would discover the clues. The rest, I believed, would work itself out along the way.

I wound up writing the entire manuscript in about two and a half weeks total (I wrote the first four chapters of so in about three or four days, and then set it aside for a while to work on other things, then picked it up again and finished the rest in two weeks or so). Partly, it was because I had a deadline—I’d signed up for my local writer group’s full-novel critique session, and the date was coming up fast. And partly it was because I underestimated how many other things I’d have to work on at the same time as this book. I also got cocky. Having the characters, the world, and the mystery plot made me believe I was at that “just add words” stage.

Wellp, I was wrong. Writing in such a rush meant I purposely skipped over some parts. But it also meant that I didn’t think through others. Going into my critique session, I thought my revisions on the manuscript would be a simple matter of inserting the stuff I’d skipped over and expanding some parts.

My critique group gave me a lot of great feedback with regard to what was missing. But more notably, the remarked that the narrator’s voice and back story weren’t quite working. The book was supposed to be YA, but was coming across as more childish. Which was weird since I’d written this character before. But after reviewing the manuscript, I realized they were write. The voice was actually rather different from what I’d used for the short stories, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. And her backstory, which I’d purposely left rather vague in the short stories, was flat, and that in turn made her rather flat. Maybe I didn’t know this character as well as I thought.

And so what was supposed to be a simple matter of “add more words” soon evolved into “rewrite the whole book.” Beyond reworking the voice and the back story, the entire beginning needed to be redone to better capture the mood of the world—and to actually have some kind of hook. And the middle section, which was super rushed before, needed to be redone to let the main character be more involved in the plot. I think part of the problem was because I had the suspects and clues all planned out, I just plopped them into the manuscript without actually giving the character a chance to discover anything. The ending might be okay, but all the revisions to the earlier parts of the book will probably have some downstream effects. Also, the voice.

Basically, I set out to write one book, accidentally wrote another because I was in a hurry (and got cocky), and now have to actually write the book I meant to. There are some parts that can be salvaged, and I do think it’s easier reworking a manuscript—even if it’s 90% of a manuscript—than starting completely from scratch. Still, suffice it to say that I’m not loving this situation. Especially since I’d planned to finish revisions by now, and I haven’t even started (though that’s mostly because I was feeling super burned out in November after two months of nonstop work on the two books I have coming out next year).

But even though my first draft ended up being an utter disaster and even more of a mess than most first drafts, I'm glad it at least exists. Sort of.

Have you ever had to redo your entire manuscript after writing it? What was it like?


Karissa Laurel said...

I hate that you have to do a rewrite but maybe you could think of that super fast first draft not as a first draft but as a really really detailed outline. And now you are not rewriting so much as you are actually doing the for real first draft. Either way, norhing is wasted. You have the very meaty bones of a complete novel and that is awesome!

Mary Fan said...

It does kind of feel more like a super detailed outline than an actual draft LOL! At least there are a few descriptions I can salvage...

Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

This happens to me when I pants or when I outline. I usually have to do a whole rewrite half way through. It's just part of the process.

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