December 24, 2010

More Things I’ve Learned

Every time I write a book, I learn something new. Each MS, each version of each MS, and each revision letter that comes with it, teaches me something huge. Or several somethings huge.

As most of you know, I had to rewrite The Frenchman. Well, I consider it a rewrite because…well, I had to write a whole new 50K words, but my editor said it’s not really a rewrite because the characters were there, the conflict was there…but I hadn’t executed it properly.

I had saved some big secrets until the end, and ultimately the thing that was making my MS interesting was what the secrets were. However, I was cheating the reader out of real character development by doing that. I didn’t see it that way at the time, of course, but having gone through and done it with those revelations up front, part of the characters from page one, I see it now.

What happened was, we weren’t getting to the crux of the conflict until the end of the book. And that was wrong. I do think that in this case, it took me a rewrite to get me to understand what the MS was truly about, what the conflicts really were. I had to get a draft down to I could peel back everything that was unnecessary and get down to the heart of the MS, to take it back down to the characters and their conflicts.

I have a little list of things I’ve learned over the past year. These are things that are helpful for me, and I hope will be helpful for you.

1. Keep it character driven. Don’t let the plot do the driving, put your characters in charge. Say you want your heroine to get on a plane with the hero, but she’s not the kind of girl to go off with a man she doesn’t know…so you have her do it anyway, that’s putting the plot in charge. She’s violating who she is to follow a road map you the author has laid out, that doesn’t necessarily ring true for the person you’ve created.

2. Keep impact in mind. When you do have a revelation for a character to make, or similar, make sure it’s revealed to the reader in a way that has the most impact. Is it more impacting to have the character make the revelation to the reader in her own thoughts, or is it better for us to find out the extent of the heroine’s issues along with the hero?

3. What is it really about? Is it about learning to trust? The power of love? Redemption? This is the issue I run into a lot of times: What story am I really trying to tell? What are the core themes? And with a more complicated book, I’ve had to rewrite them to discover what the core truth of the story really is. If I can figure this out BEFORE writing the whole MS it saves me a lot of grief, because it helps me keep my focus, and that helps the story maintain its focus!

4. Where to your characters begin, and where will they end? What do you need your characters to learn over the course of the MS? They need to have an arc. They need to have an internal conflict that is sorted out over the course of the story. This means learning, growing, changing. If your hero is a reclusive tycoon closed off to love, he needs to go on a journey to open up his heart, and ideally, it will be the heroine who helps him, and even more ideally, the journey she takes him on will also advance HER journey.

So say we have Reclusive Tycoon who is closed off to love, and the heroine is afraid of sharing herself with anyone for fear of being rejected. But she has to give of herself to draw him out, and then both of them find themselves opening up to each other. But then one of them, say the hero, can’t handle it and he pulls back, but the heroine stands firm, revealing her love, her heart, despite her fear of rejection. Because she isn’t afraid anymore.

Anyway, maybe something better than that but that’s my example to sort of illustrate what I’m talking about.

5. I would never go back to the original version of an MS. The revised versions, the rewritten versions, are always stronger than the original. Always. And no matter how perfect I think what I’ve done is, revisions, or even a rewrite, have always made it better. Doesn’t mean a revision letter doesn’t hurt, but I know why I need to do them, and I can even be excited for the chance to make my MS the best I can make it.

So that’s what I’ve learned. Some of it. πŸ™‚ Have you learned anything brilliant this year? Share it with me. I always want to learn!

Oh, and Merry Christmas! πŸ˜€


10 Responses | TrackBack URL | Comments Feed

  1. What have a learned this year? So much of my life is different this year. I pretty much dropped the remainder of a group of friends — the other half already wasn’t talking to me, just about me and my kids. It was a bit lonely at first, but then the writing thing came along and that now takes up most of my thoughts. As a bonus, I’ve met so many online writing friends and found a critique group. It’s been amazing.

    It’s really true: one door closes and another one opens.

  2. Julia, I can relate to losing a lot of friends, not for any dramatic reason, but moving, marriage, children, college. And yet, I’ve met so many new wonderful people too!

    Here’s to a new phase of life!

  3. Maisey, I love you. I figured your blog would be the perfect place for such a revelation, since it’s romance-themed and all, LOL. No, seriously, a light came on while reading this post and I think I know how to end my book. I wrote the first draft but the end wasn’t right and try as I might to turn it around in my head, I couldn’t figure out how to fix it. But something in your post turned on the lightbulb so thank you! I really enjoy your craft posts…well, all your posts, but the craft ones especially.

    Happy holidays to you and yours! πŸ™‚

  4. Cari, thank you! And aren’t you sweet. I hoped that it might help someone out. πŸ™‚ These are things I try to keep in mind as I work. It’s always very helpful to me to get it all written down. Helps me make sense out of my process! LOL.

    Good luck getting the ending done! I’ll consider it my Christmas gift to you…LOL.

  5. Wow thanks so much Maisey! I can’t tell you how extremely helpful I found that list πŸ™‚

  6. You’re welcome, Lacey! Always glad when I can help out. πŸ™‚ Always glad when my Adventures in Revisions are helpful. XD

  7. Very insightful!

  8. Thanks! πŸ˜€

  9. Numbers 3 and 4 really resonated with me, Maisey. I’ve learned so much this year, my first year of being published. I’ve learned my strengths writing wise. And my weaknesses. And that writing is never easy, and that revisions and rewrites always make a story stronger and better. I wish I was the type of writer who could write it right first go, but I’m not. Like you, I have to write it first, and improve it after. What I’m trying to develop next year is the insight to improve it by myself, so as to really catch and hold the attention of my dream editor. I can do it. I know I can. Now I just need to prove it. Thanks for sharing, Maisey, I think that knowing it doesn’t come easy, even to you, is very reassuring news!

  10. Sally, so glad that it’s helped you. Really, it helps me to see it written down.

    And no, it doesn’t come easy, but I think that’s okay. I love it, and it’s worth it. All of the work, and the angst and the HARD. Some MSs are harder than others, and I find those are the MSs that are the most rewarding in the end.

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