Tuesday, 26 February 2013

5 stages of rewriting - with a toothbrush?

Re-writing is “like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush." (Pete Murphy)

I am celebrating, because three weeks ago my task was to rewrite my teen thriller of nearly 30,000 words in 24,000 words without losing any of the plot or characterisation.  

I also had ten areas of doubt expressed by my editors to take into account. In my view, three weeks is not a realistic deadline for such an activity and I felt it was a good excuse for panic. 

Every writer has their own way of dealing with that kind of panic. In case it's helpful for my readers to know, mine involved the following stages:
Make a copy of the 'original' to work on. File the original.
Start slowly on page 1, take into account: 
-   the editors' doubts/comments
-   the removal of as many characters as possible (I have a tendency to include lots of 'bit parts')
-   these questions at each 'scene change': 
    What is this scene for? 
    What are the motives of each of the characters in it? 
    How does it progress the plot?
-   Check the details. Use the toothbrush. Don't panic.
This slow revision gave me a good idea where conversations or actions could be squeezed or dispensed with altogether (the ones that had to go were, as always, the ones I loved most).  Change the text colour of these passages.
Print out and go through again, rewriting the coloured bits (for me this is much easier on paper).
Go through again on screen and incorporate the rewritten bits. The main problem at this stage was remembering what was still in the plot/characterisation and what had been ditched. 
Go through again (!), trying to read it as a reader would, who knew nothing of the story. I was looking for any unexplained motives or non sequiturs in the plot.

And, after 21 days of being convinced there was no way I could pull it off, I sent off the new draft manuscript by email at the weekend. 

Phew! Panic over. Basement floor (almost) pristine. Toothbrush thrown away. (Thanks, Pete)

horses on Solway sands
Now I have emerged from my three weeks of self-inflicted solitude (with a couple evenings off to see friends and a walk on the beach nearly every day). 

skeins of geese flying north up Solway coast
(they are there, in the pale blue bit of sky!)

And the sun is shining (this is the Cumbrian riviera, don't forget!), the geese are arriving, and the pigeons are cooing. The garden is full of snowdrops and the fields of lambs. 

Just in time! This weekend Words by the Water begins in Keswick (I am chairing four of the author talks) and The Boy with Two Heads is a year old! 

Life is amazing ...

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