So, as you know, the characters from my first two WIPs have been suggesting revisions to improve their stories’ chances of finding an audience. While Katharine continues to talk with the other characters in Summer at the Crossroads, Madeleine O’Brien of Death Out of Time has stepped up to the plate and made some serious changes. And I mean serious.
My biggest stumbling block in getting the story right was the relationship between her and another main character. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t make anything work. And it left me questioning everything I had written and sent out for multiple beta reads.
Now, you need to know that Madeleine’s had various ideas for her story from the very beginning. At one point, she even suggested shifting it from sci-fi to thriller. Yikes. That should give you an idea how flexible she is about “the story.” So when it became painfully obvious that I was hopeless for writing about this particular relationship, Madeleine offered the solution.
Remove that other character. Voilà. No more “relationship” to get right.
Wow. Okay. But, Madeleine, I thought, you know that’s going to change half the story, right?
Of course she did. And she reminded me that no one ever said this would be easy. And then she introduced me to the new character who would replace the other one.
That would work. And I saw how much simpler it would be for me to get that new relationship right.
But Madeleine wasn’t finished. The story line was too complicated, she said. Much as she wanted to keep a particular set of characters in the book, they had to go—except for one who had been there all along (in the sci-fi version, anyway). That particular role would increase, but everything else would be reserved for Book 2 in the series.
Wow. Okay. But, Madeleine, I thought, you know that’s going to change another quarter of the story, right?
Of course she did. And she again reminded me that no one ever said this would be easy. And then she introduced me to the new story line that would replace the one of that particular set of characters.
That would work. And I saw how much simpler that would be for readers to follow.
Madeleine still isn’t finished with the changes. A number of minor characters will go. There are still too many potted plants in the room. If their actions are still needed, they’ll be assigned to more important characters.
We also need to create the scenes associated with the sleeker, streamlined story. While a number of existing scenes can be repurposed, most will end up on the cutting room floor. As I mentioned above, some will go into Book 2.
Some readers, especially non-writers, might ask 1) Is all that original writing a waste, and 2) Do “real” writers make so many changes to the story?
The answers are 1) No, and 2) Yes.
1) Writing is never wasted, even when revisions result in chunks ending up on the cutting room floor. Writers learn from the experience, getting a feel for the characters, the plot, the back story—in short, what works and what doesn’t. We learn where we’re too wordy, or telling too much instead of showing, or failing to get important points out of our heads and onto the pages. We learn to write tighter sentences, more coherent scenes, and seamless transitions between them.
2) If you read interviews with your favorite authors, I’ll bet most of them have revised at least one manuscript to the point where the first draft (and maybe even the third) is unrecognizable in the published version. Whether we meticulously plan or create on the fly, we’ve all written ourselves into a dead end and, after banging our heads against the desk and muttering curses at our Muses, admit that we need to start over. The stories will be better for it.
And the desire to tell the best story possible marks the best writers who stand the test of time. I’m not saying I’ll ever be one of them. But at the end, if I can honestly say I gave the stories my best efforts, then there won’t be any regrets.
- Characters Who Won’t Let Go (jmmcdowell.com)