Why I Love Revision (or: I'm So Glad GILT Doesn't Have a Prologue)

Katherine Longshore 3 Tuesday, December 04, 2012
Did you know that back in the day, authors like Charles Dickens used to write their novels in serial form for newspapers?  They often thought up the next chapter as they wrote it, sending it in with its cliff-hanger ending weekly or monthly, stringing the readers along (so much so that American readers crowded the docks for the next installment of The Old Curiosity Shop, shouting at the crew of an incoming ship, "Is Nell dead?").

Dickens was a master of the episodic novel.  But somehow - by some miracle or possibly just sheer genius - he managed to pull it off and create a coherent story that could eventually be compiled and published as a single volume.

Me?  Not so much.  I'm pretty great at writing an episodic novel (just ask my editor), but coherent?  I kind of need to work on that.  Which is why I love revision.  By the end of all my edits, I have a very different book - one that shows the bones of the original, but (hopefully) contains so much more.  Including a plot.

GILT was originally almost 500 manuscript pages long.  There were breaks in the middle where I left off and started up in a different place.  I'd write long, involved tangents and realize they were going nowhere.  And then write another one.

I wrote a prologue.  And then sat in a critique group with Bret and heard the reaction to his prologue.  I cut that sucker out pretty quick.  Kitty had no one to love in the first draft.  Her life was sheer hell.  There was no romance - it was a story about a doomed friendship! - and no kissing.  Things happened for no reason.  Let me explain - things happened because history said they happened. But history is not story, so that had to change.

I added plot.

I know, I know.  Doesn't your average writer outline?  Figure out what's going to happen and why before writing the novel?  Apparently, not me.  I just finished Number 3 and I'm still doing the same thing.  Luckily - I've got revision.  And I've learned how to add plot to history.

I do not recommend this.  It is not easy.  And takes up a huge number of pages, a ridiculous amount of time and more than a few tears.  But it's my process.

Now, as a little treat (and for a laugh) here's my original opener for GILT (which was then called Cat's Shadow):


February 1542

It wasn’t supposed to end this way.  Of course, no one ever thinks things will end badly, do they?  I never do.   Certainly Cat never did.  Cat always expected things to go exactly the way she wanted them to.  And they always did.  She made sure of it.
I think that’s why I hated her.  Even though she was my best friend.  It was always the two of us together.  Kitty and Cat.  That’s what they called us when we were younger – KittyCat.  It should have been Cat and Kitty.  Cat always came first, even back then.

And the current opening:


“You’re not going to steal anything.”

I left the question—Are you?—off the end of the sentence. But Cat heard it anyway.
“Of course not.” She paused to look at me, shadows eclipsing half her face, blue eyes glittering in the moonlight from the tall, narrow windows of the upper gallery. “I could be flogged. Or pilloried. Or have a hand cut off.”
A drunken roar of laughter vented up through the beams of the great hall below us.
“Or executed,” I muttered.


I'm not a prologue hater (though Prologue Hater would make a great t-shirt, don't you think), so I think the first one is just as good. But whatever works for you and your team is what's best, I'm sure. Good luck with GILT!

Yes, thank heavens for revision! And your prologue isn't laughable, but the real beginning is so much better!

Also - I like Anita's idea for the Prologue Hater t-shirt. I wouldn't wear it, as I am indifferent, but the people who really hate prologues seem intent on letting the world know, so a t-shirt would be just the gift for them.

Great thoughts on the writing process. I feel like I did everything the hard way the first time and have been determined to turn myself into an outliner for subsequent projects. I've had marginal success...

This post reminds me I still have Gilt on my TBR list! Must remedy this and read by the end of the year :)

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