|Is it a phone book? Is it a doorstop? No, it's my first draft!|
But in my two months' distance from my novel, I started to worry. I mean, what could I possibly cut from my plot? I already kept my cast of characters fairly small. Cut I cut any more? I was confident, at least, that deleting 10k wouldn't be a big deal, but 40k? Ouch.
So as strange as it sounds, when I read my lengthy novel over four days--and really got a sense of the pacing as a whole--it made me CRAZY HAPPY to see I had plenty...PLENTY of raw material to work with for cutting!
Yes, folks, I am an overwriter. I've known this from the beginning, but now I see more clearly where I overwrite. These are the areas where I'm especially guilty:
- Warming up: There's always a big scene or a big moment I'm working up to. I always have a fear that I'll reach that moment too soon and it will feel contrived to the reader. I am almost always wrong and can cut at least half my words in the warm up/set up.
- Interiority: I LOVE interiority in novels. Stories without it don't compel me. But this is where I have the biggest problem with overwriting. I stuff so much inner thought into my prose that it bogs down my pacing. I can cut probably a third of all the interiority I write.
- Beats: The actress in me likes to act out my characters. I like to write them making facial expressions, twiddling things in their fingers, sighing, etc. That's all fine and good, but when I revise, I have to check my dialogue carefully and see if those words alone convey the emotion and thought of the character. When they do, I have to trust them and cut the beat. Too many beats also make the pace lag.
The beauty of overwriting is that in getting nearly every single idea out of me and onto paper, it's easy to find the gems in the writing--the gems that wouldn't be there had I not overthought the subject to such an extent. So in revising, I go back, keep the gems and nix most of the rest.
For me, overwriting is just a part of the process. Maybe it's not a weakness; maybe it's a strength. Or maybe it's just the way I work. Things I do feel confident about with this first draft are my characters and my plot. Sure, they still need some tweaking, but at least those things aren't going to need a major rehaul. I'll be busy enough condensing my novel!
Here's how I've decided to tackle revisions:
On the back of the note card, I made two columns. The first column listed my three Os: Objective, Obstacle, and Outcome. My character has to want something, something has to get in her way, and there needs to be an outcome--usually NOT what she wants to keep the overall conflict going in the novel. (And, really, every character in the chapter needs three O's as well, so I have to keep those in the back of my mind--because there's no more room on my note card!).
In the second column on the back of the note card are key points of the chapter. These are usually bits of information the reader needs to learn during this time, like pieces of exposition, back story, important plot points, meeting new characters, etc. Once I have this completed note card, I have a focused picture of what this chapter needs to be. Anything beyond it is fluff and in serious danger of my revision battle ax!
When it comes to revisions, are you a put-er-in-er or a take-er-out-er? What kinds of things do you put in or take out? How do you tackle revisions?
Edit: I just read on Kristin Cashore's blog (author of Graceling) that her first draft of Bitterblue (soon-to-be released) was 216,000 words, 800 pages! The will-be published version (seven drafts later) is 550 pages. I feel so much better!