Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making Passes


Last night, the printer chugged out the first printed copy of BURIED. I started work in August, finished the first draft shortly before Halloween, and just now, *finally* am ready to turn the damn thing over to The Tiny Dynamo and the Beta Readers (they're down in the basement right now, practicing MoTown covers).

So what did I do in the last five months? Well, I moved house, made a couple of *very* drastic changes to my day job, and suffered the usual assortment of pains and ills to which all flesh is heir.

I also did something like eight drafts of my novel.

You see, the post One Leg at a Time No Longer marked a new direction for me in my approach to writing. I wanted to write more like the way I draw. So I started with a basic idea. Then I 'scribbled' my way through a rough outline. My big concern there was plots and subplots and their turning points.

Then I sat down and wrote the damn thing. Took ten, maybe eleven weeks. Freakin' paradise.

That was my first pass. To me, it was like moving from a loose sketch to tight pencils. And the same as I'll take my drawing, scrub the whole thing down with an eraser and go in again, I took my novel and started making pass after pass, tightening with every step.

They are, in order:

Just the Facts, Ma'am: I read through checking and correcting. What time *would* it be in France at that point? How *does* one say 'fuck off' in Thai? Is that character named Marjory or Mabel? Pick one!

Also at this point, I'm scanning along for weak spots, sore places, obvious bruising in the story. I'll be back for those later.

The Hero's Head: Two things about the way I write: I often don't know my characters very well when I start, and I like action. By the end of the book, I'll know my hero (heroine, in this case) much better than at the beginning, but I'll tend to be light on Sequel.

This pass, I hunted for things the hero wouldn't have said, things she wouldn't have done, etc. I also made sure I took the time to let the reader know where she was going and why.

Plant and Payoff: This pass really deserves its own blog post. It also might have been better done second instead of third, but I was just too itchy to go back and straighten out some of the hero's wrong steps early on. Basically, anything you need later in the book, you need to plant early. We've all heard that if there's a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I, it damn well better go off in Act III. Well, it works in reverse, too.

This pass is about realizing you had gunfire in Act III and going back to put the gun on the mantel...

Mustache Twirling: That's right, the villain gets his own pass, too. This meant going through the novel with an eye out for nothing but the villain. Sometimes I'd pretend I was a Famous Asshole Actor who cared nothing about the script as a whole, only about my part.

Writing this pass, I focused on the villain's introduction, motivations, what they're doing when I can't see them onstage, that kind of stuff. This needs to be done for each and every major character, and sometimes for the minor ones.

And since in this story the hero is surrounded by MANY hostile forces, each villain (and a few who seemed bad but weren't) got his own draft. I made five separate passes to give the devils their due.

Better, Faster, Stronger: Remember those weak spots, bruised places, dead areas I spotted in my second run-through? Last thing I did was to go through the work and take a long hard look at any that were left.

You see, by the time I'd focused on the hero, then the plants and payoffs, then all the villains and major characters, a great many of those 'bad areas' had been cleared up.

Of course, the ones that were left were thorny as hell. I kept at it every day, and it gradually came together. Might've gone faster with more hours spent, but I'm not complaining.

Now the readers will start in. I'll discover that Mabel is unexpectedly Marjorie (because the Find/Replace missed that one). That the hero oddly stood a moment in the moonlight in the middle of the afternoon. That I didn't do enough to explain why anyone would put a live snake down their pants.

Before Agent Anne gets it, there will be another pass...

14 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm doing that first passs now and not writing as fast as I'd like. I really need to get substantial more done so I can have some stuff to polish up over summer.

Lana Gramlich said...

Love the comparison between the writing & art here. Makes me feel like a slouch, where art's concerned. ;) *L* (kdn!)

Avery DeBow said...

Nice to know you do as many run-throughs as I do. Except you're much faster.

I'm still stuck in the plotting phase. A couple really rough chapters written, but I don't know exactly where I'm going and that bogs me down. So, detailing first with some writing shoved in every day, even if it's just a random scene without a home, then I'll get to hammering it out.

Shauna Roberts said...

Thanks for the discussion of the new method you tried. Did you think this worked better than your previous method? Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see where you polished the language. Do you naturally write in beautiful sentences, or do you do work on sentences after your beta readers are done?

Steve Malley said...

Charles, no of us writes as fast as we like. What gets me is, you're sitting there sweating out the story one word at a time, but when I read it, the adventures run at such a breakneck pace!

Lana, you are *no* slouch where art's concerned!!

Avery, try my weirdo graphs. They work! (just wish I could remember which post I talked about them in...)

Shauna, the new method *may* have sped me up a little, I'm not sure. What I do know is that the story's at least as good as my other efforts and I got it done without a tenth the doubt, anxiety and hairpulling.

And language gets hit at every pass. Especially the hero/villain passes, where one of the jobs I'm doing is to make sure that my 3rd person narrative stays in the 'voice' of the head that scene is inhabiting...

Sphinx Ink said...

What a great post! Kudos to you on completing the ms., and good luck with the beta readers. I like your way of inhabiting your Villain; good suggestion on how to beef up a character.

cs harris said...

You only JUST printed it out? For the FIRST time? You obviously trust computers far more than I do. I print out every scene I write, as soon as I write it.

Interesting look at your process. I'm not that disciplined. I'll sometimes mark passages to go back and fix something specific, but I usually can't resist fixing anything and everything I see that's wrong with each pass. Except for those pesky fill-in-the-blanks. They're always the last thing I do. So how *does* one say 'fuck off' in Thai?

ANNA-LYS said...

Very interesting! I did a comparison with my own writings of scientific articles ... and I learned a lot by You, on how to put them together in my thesis!
Thank You!!!

Avery DeBow said...

I vaguely remember your weirdo graphs. Hook me up with them if you run across them again.

Barbara Martin said...

Great post on writing, Steve. This time round I have an outline of sorts to keep my current work together. I like how you divide the passes on your rewrites. Makes perfect sense.

Merelyme said...

This is really fascinating to hear about your writing process. I write non-ficition...essays...so I never have to think of villians...unless I look at diseases as villians.

I wonder if I would ever be good at writing fiction. Is it fun? Tell the truth? Or is it grueling work or both?

Steve Malley said...

Sphinx, thanx! :)

CS, your words of wisdom turned out to be prescient. *Scarily* prescient. To be fair, I did have backup copies on memory stick and on my phone. Only problem was, they were two or three passes old...

Anna-Lys, glad I could help!

Avery, will do!

Barbara, so far this seems to work for me. :)

Merelyme, is fiction fun? Hard work? Both? To answer, I shall fall back on the words of another:

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.
- James M. Barrie

Ralph Ivy said...

What do you think of graphic novels? Being a writer and an artist both? Even tho I'm an old guy (70 and counting) searching for a means of expression has been a life-long quest. I like both writing and drawing/coloring. Wonder Woman was my first muse. But I never got into superheros. By age 12 I had encountered both EC comics and pulp fiction. Loved both. EC led me even more intently into drawing. Pulps led to intense reading. But not into writing that much. Not until my 20s when I started my first journals. Today that - journaling - remains my main form of expression. Now I am stumbling forward into blogging. Like what I do but miss having much connection with similar searchers. Looking the net I ran across your posts. I appreciate artists/writers whatever form they take. Thank you.

Steve Malley said...

Ralph, hello and welcome! As it happens, I think the world of graphic novels-- my first four books were both written and drawn by me! And yes, I did a lot of revising on those two, enough that I learned not to put page numbers on til the end!