More on Rewriting

Working on this rewrite—if you can call it working, since I haven’t accomplished much until this week—has thrown me for a loop. I’ve talked a little about it before, and I’m not sure if I have any lessons to pass on about it yet, except that, if it ever happens to you, I hope it’s easier for you than it has been for me.

I’ve always wondered how screenwriters do it. I’m one of those people who likes to watch the extras on DVDs, and a lot of them talk to the writers. I especially pay attention to these interviews because you never know what you’ll learn.

For instance, I think there’s a code when you see writing credits for a movie. If it says it was written by Jane Doe and John Smith, the word and appears to mean that they wrote it separately. If it’s written by Jane Doe and John Smith & Joe Schmuckatelly, the ampersand means Joe worked on it separately. For instance, the movie Blade Runner was written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples. When I watched the extras, what happened was that Hampton Fancher wrote the initial script, but there were parts of it that director Ridley Scott didn’t like, so it was handed to David Peoples, who rewrote it to Ridley’s liking. Hampton Fancher admits that David Peoples’s rewrite made it better, but seeing things like this always makes me wonder how they do it.

I mean, I can’t see someone handing me a manuscript and saying, “Make it better.”

How? This isn’t my work. I don’t know what the author wanted, what he saw as he was writing it. Now, if he wants to work with me on a rewrite, maybe we can make something happen. But just take over what someone else has written? No thanks.

I’ve never understood how they can do that. Maybe it’s because I write so much from inspiration, off-the-cuff. What I’m doing right now with Pipeline feels a lot like the experience I had trying to write to an outline: like I’m forcing something. A square peg in a round hole, for instance.

Believe you me, I’ve spent a lot of time going over all this in my mind, considering my options. Anything from just rewriting the initial 120 or so pages—which is where my daughter says it really picks up—to stretching it out so that the duology becomes a trilogy.

Neither idea appeals to me. I wrote all this, as I said, in the throes of inspiration, and now I have to fabricate something else with the first part of my novel. What I originally wrote was useful for me, but it really didn’t fit for the novel. It was basically character study, because the writer always needs to know more than he ever tells the reader. I was getting to know Lyle and the world he moved around in, and it took me about 120 pages to do it.

The first 20 pages or so, I’m keeping. They’re the initial action scene, where Lyle is arrested and flipped, to the reaction scene, where it all starts to sink in just what he’s fell into, to a scene where he’s talking with the reporter who is transcribing all this for a book. That part, needs to be there, in my mind, because it sets up the entire book. You learn how Lyle handles things, how important his family is to him, all that.

And there are a few scenes after that that need to stay, such as when the cop takes him to a meth cook/addict’s house so he can see what the drug really does to most tweakers. Up to this point, he’s been fairly naïve about it all because his customers are college boys who use it occasionally (which all my research says happens more frequently than the media hype lets on) and don’t have the hollowed-out cheeks and haunted eyes you see on Faces of Meth. When I read that scene in group, the general reaction was that they liked Lyle up to that point, but this was when they really started rooting for him, when he became truly human to them.

So it’s gotta stay.

The rest is up in the air, though, and I gotta rewrite and make it all fit inside that roughly 80 pages. Or less. The ms clocks in at just under 96,000 words, which is a little long for a first novel, if still within the recommended range (79,000-90,000 with an upper limit of 100,000). So one of the other things I’ve been thinking is that it wouldn’t hurt for it to drop some on the word count.

It’s all been weighing heavy on me. I’m not saying that to get sympathy, because I hope to learn from it and be able to pass the lessons along. That’s always been the goal of this blog anyway. I don’t talk about my experiences to bask in the glory or anything like that. I’m hoping I can help some other writer out there avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve encountered along the way, and I have to admit that confessing some of those pitfalls isn’t always easy on the ego.

Some time back, one of the other writers in group, Claire Croxton, became so frustrated with one of her mss that she was ready to give up writing and go back to Alaska, but she eventually decided that she couldn’t do that, that it wasn’t in her nature to give up writing. I have to agree, because writing is a creative urge, not something you can turn on and off like a light.

I’ve felt the same the last few weeks. I’ve gone from ecstatic because Aaron Priest evidently thought enough of it that I’ll get to re-submit when I get this done, to despair because the rewrite itself was moving about the speed of evolution. I’ve made false starts, and I’m still not sure how happy I am with what I’ve managed so far, so it might get rewritten yet again. But at least it’s progress of a sort, even if it feels like one step forward and two steps back.

I’ll get there. I’m a writer. It’s not what I do, it’s what I am. So, deep down, I love this and I’ll never give it up, if only because it means I get to sleep faster when I’m creating. Well, sometimes I do, anyway.

And there’s one other reason, which I’ve mentioned before: my daughter. She’s finally read one of my stories, and she’s given me some great advice on it, pointing out where it got interesting for her and where it felt slow, and that’s helped a lot. Between that and getting it to a point where her mother will read it, I’ve been inspired by the women in my life, and I thank them.

I’ll keep you posted.

Later,

Gil

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “More on Rewriting

  1. I think you’re doing what I do too often: You’re looking at the whole of it, rather than the small parts. When I get in on my big stories, I stare at that final number of 65,000 words and think, “Holy shit! There’s no WAY my measly little plot is going to reach that far! No way in hell!” But I try to write it anyways, half afraid that it’ll never work out and half knowing it will. And that percentage changes from day to day. It’s a big problem for me because I’ll bug out and get myself so stuck, that I fall behind in word count and hate what I’m writing and just don’t do it.

    But then I look at what I’ve written, look at what my goal is and go “Hey, I’m about a fifth of the way through and barely past the fist plot point. I’m doing pretty dang good here!”

    So I think what you need to do is stop looking at the big numbers and look at the small stuff. You’ve got the first twenty pages? Well, that’s 20 pages less that need to be re-written. You need to make it from the 21st page to the 80th page? Well, that’s just 60 pages and if you did it once, you can do it again. The only think I can say about doing a re-write is that you can copy/paste stuff from the original into the new one and BAM! You’re a few hundred more words closer.

    I know, it’s easier said than done, but that’s my advice. Look at the small bits.

    How do you eat an elephant? Why, one bite at a time, of course!

    In other news, the reason it took me so long to read it was cause I was afraid it was going to be all sci-fi-esk with the big words and hard to understand and all that. But it’s not and I’m happily moving on to part two! And once you get done with the rewrite, I’ll re-read it and leave you comments and edits.

    You can do it!

    • Yeah, but it’s making the new plot elements fit that gies me, um, well, fits. I come up with some good things to put in—then, when I got the setup for those written, guess what? I was at the point where you said it gets interesting. So, I thought, now what do I do? Do I trim some existing scenes? I have to look at the final count because it’s already a little long for a debut novel.

      I’m cramming ten pounds of material in a five-pound sack. The problem, in a way, was too much material.

      But you’ve got a valid point about looking at what could be re-used and viewing that as x number of pages already done. I did think of that, but it did’t always help. I just kept seeing what was left to do lol.

      Guess I’m one of those people who, when offered a choice between the glass being half-empty or half-full, I have to admit I didn’t realize there was a glass.

      But thanks for the encouragement. You’re the one person I really want to read my work, and you don’t know how much it motivated me to know you finally were and that you liked it.

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