Innocence Lost

Once, and not nearly as long ago as I want to admit, I had this dream of what writing and publishing a novel would be like.

It was simple, really.  I would sit down to write, and the words would flow like water.  No, like red wine, rich and full-bodied.  I would keep right on going until I got to the end, which would ceremoniously be labeled "THE END," perhaps after a frenzied night of no sleep.  Then I would dash off the manuscript to a publisher, who would recognize it for the work of art it was, and pronounce it perfect.  Done.

There was a time when I actually thought finishing a first draft was the same thing as finishing a novel. 

[Insert maniacal laughter here]

If you've followed the Muses for a while, you might already know that I went through a fairly significant revision process with my agent, before we sent Silver on submission.  In that case, "fairly significant" included throwing out 45,000 words and replotting and rewriting the entire back half of the novel.  That's when I learned that revision can mean rewriting. Before then, I thought revision was polishing and layering within the scenes of the book.  It never occurred to me that the story, characters and structure could (or should) change dramatically from first draft to last. 

I've blogged about my revision process before, and the steps I use to get from first draft to final product, starting with big picture changes and getting smaller and smaller until I'm focused on polishing language and details within individual scenes.  Although every book is different, there are some common threads between my first drafts and the final version.  Big picture-wise, my first drafts tend to be overcomplicated, full of characters, sideplots and twists that usually have to be streamlined in the final version of the novel. 

Within the scenes themselves, I have the opposite problem.  The writing itself sometimes lacks emotion and tension, and is sparse on visual details and setting, while heavy on stage directions, body movements and cliche.

It's no wonder that often when I'm writing a first draft, I feel like a complete fake.  I know I'm writing something that will never be fit for anyone to see.  But I've also learned that it can be just a matter of getting some words, even crappy ones, on paper, so I'll have something to revise later.

I thought I'd share a short excerpt from Silver from first draft to final product, to show how even this tiny piece of a scene evolved and changed from the beginning to the final draft. 

In this scene, Brianna is on her first date with Blake, in a restaurant with two of their friends, Austin and Haley.  A female server arrives to take their order.  Here's the first version:

A waitress (I still can't bring myself to use the politically correct term 'server') comes by to take our order.  I am definitely going with a small salad, still fairly certain I won't be able to choke down a meal under the circumstances.  "Blake! Omigod!" She literally squeals, bouncing up and down like a puppy until Blake stands up and gives her a quick hug.  "Does Daddy know you're here?"

Blake shakes his head.

The waitress pats Blake's shoulder with her palm before pulling out a pad to take our order.  She is tall and thin with layered chestnut hair that falls just below her shoulders.  Her wide brown eyes are balanced by a long nose and big lips.  Even as she takes our orders, she keeps looking back at Blake and smiling.

As soon as the girl leaves, Austin balls up his napkin and tosses it at Blake, hitting him in the chest.  "Please say you didn't."

Blake grabs the napkin and throws it back.  It just misses Austin's head, before making contact with the wall and sliding to the table.  Austin grabs the napkin and stares at Blake, waiting.

"I didn't." Blake delivers the line straight, but his knowing grin belies the statement.

Austin takes a drink of water shaking his head.  "You're an idiot."

My thoughts on this initial pass:

Blake has a past with the server, and I think that this first version does get that point across, but Brianna is a detached observer, just reporting this important reveal with no emotion or reaction at all.  The physical description of the server is boring, and we don't even get her name, even though she has a role in the story later on. The worst part of the scene for me is that there is almost no tension, despite the fact that Blake and Brianna are on a date, and the girl taking their order has a past with Blake.  There is also no hint of the supernatural, even though Portia is tied up in Blake's world.

Part of the reason for these missing parts, is that I didn't know how this character fit into the overall structure of the story until much later- part of first drafting for me is discovering new story elements as I write.  Part of it was that I was focused on getting to other aspects of the scene as I drafted.  Part of it was just my process of getting the plot out first and layering in emotion later.

Compare that version with the final version:

A tall girl with porcelain skin comes by to take our order.  I am definitely going with a small salad, still fairly certain I won't be able to choke down a meal under the circumstances.  

"Blake! Omigod!" the server literally squeals, bouncing up and down like a puppy until Blake stands up and gives her a quick hug.  "Does Daddy know you're here?"

"Hey, Portia," Blake says as he sits back down.  "Don't bother Rush right now, okay?"

Portia pats Blake's shoulder with her palm before pulling out a pad to take our order.  She flips her chin so her smooth chestnut hair falls just in front of her shoulder.  She's pretty like a pond full of brown water, beautiful until you look too close.  A dark cloud sits just beneath the surface of her gaze as she takes Haley's order. 

When her eyes rest on me, the cloud rises all the way to the top, like someone's poked the water with a stick.  "What are you?" she asks.

I want to back up, but there's nowhere to go in the booth next to the wall.  The words echo in my head.  Not who, what.  "What am I having?"

"Right." Portia taps her pen on the pad in front of her.  "What are you having?"

I fidget under her stare, rattling off my order.  She doesn't write it down.  It's not until she walks away that I realize what's made me so uncomfortable.  Girls tend to treat me in a mostly normal way, but even they don't stare at me.  Not like that.  I put my hands in my lap and finger my bracelet. 

Austin balls up his napkin and tosses it at Blake, hitting him in the chest.  "Please tell me you didn't."

Blake grabs the napkin and throws it back.  It just misses Austin's head, before making contact with the wall and sliding to the table.  Austin grabs the napkin and stares at Blake, waiting.

"Okay, I didn't." Blake delivers the line straight, but his knowing grin tells another story.  The scientist in me takes takes in the full implications of this exchange with detached interest.  The crazy girl in me wants to strangle them both for even having this conversation in front of me.  So Blake hooked up with Portia?  Logically, I know his past is littered with girls.  It's just not something I want thrown in my face. 

I'm the last person they should be having this conversation in front of.  I try to give Blake a pass.  He doesn't know he's literally playing with fire.

"You're an idiot," Austin says.  

I could think of  a few more choice words.  I bite them back.


Looking back at this passage now, there are more changes I would make, but they're primarily minor line edits.  Substantively, I think this passage works much better.  We get a sense of the tension, not only from Brianna's point of view as she listens to her date admit he hooked up with the waitress at some point  in the (recent?) past, but we also get a sense of Portia, and the tension she feels when she sees Blake with Brianna.  There's a subtler, paranormal, undertone here too, since Portia seems to actually "see" Brianna, who is usually protected by magic.



3 comments

I love before & after shots like what you've shown. Agree on the tension and involving Brianna more in the exchange. Well played, Talia. :)

Thanks for sharing this Talia. I loved reading both (actually, I thought the first draft was pretty good!) so it was very interesting to see how you changed it, upped the tension, and included the paranormal. I wouldn't mind seeing another blog like this. Please?!

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