Vaughn Hardacker here: Recently I completed a novel that I’ve tentatively titled The Exchange. The plot is a crime thriller in which my protagonist (named Dylan Thomas–his mother was a fan of the poet) is a former state police detective who left the paramilitary world of law enforcement to become a lawyer. To survive while attending law school he became a private investigator and after passing the bar maintained his status as an investigator. He is on an ice fishing weekend in northern Maine when he receives a call from his sister, Caitlan (named for Thomas’s wife) who is extremely distraught…her three years-old daughter has gone missing and the police believe that she and her husband are responsible. Dylan takes on the role of attorney for his sister and her husband and uses his investigative skills to seek the perpetrator. He learns that the child has been abducted to be sold in an adoption plot. The investigation will lead him through Maine to Boston where the scheduled exchange is to take place.
That’s the first draft. Now the real work begins. Hallie Ephron once said, “To write is heavenly; to rewrite is divine…” Well, I’ve achieved heavenly, now I have to strive for divinity. I set the finished first draft aside for several months (hoping to be able to edit…rewrite…naively. If I immediately jump into the process while the plot and novel are still fresh in my mind I find it impossible to identify the areas that must be:
- clarified. Things that my brain knew and thought I included in the manuscript.
- Expounded upon. Those things that lead the reader to understand the various characters, their motivations, and their actions.
- Deleted. This is the hard one. Identifying those sections where I have deviated from the plot (no matter how interesting the deviation) and do not move it forward. In many instances this is where I have to “Kill my darlings” (I wish I knew who first said that!)
- Redundancies: eliminate scenes/sections that were previously written or information that is already understood.
In his book on writing Stephen King stated that once he finished a first draft he set the manuscript aside for a period of time and then wrote it again from scratch (That’s the true definition of a rewrite! I don’t have that much discipline. I do a line by line edit of the document in my word processor–I’ve been told that King does all of his writing in longhand on pads of paper). He also states that his object is to contact the manuscript size by 10%. For some reason my word count doesn’t vary that much as steps 1 and 2 above seem to replace those darlings I removed.
Once I have completed the second draft, I give the manuscript to my first readers with the instruction to ignore grammar and spelling. That will get caught during the final edit from my publisher. What I want them to concentrate on are the four items listed above. I also try not to have only writers as a first reader, I want readers who will read the work and give me their honest opinion on what worked for them and more importantly what did not. People who will not placate me but will tell it to me straight. I am lucky as I have several who will give me constructive honest feedback. Sometimes its hard to handle all that truth!
In closing. As many of you may know the Maine Literary Awards were held last week and four of us who regularly blog here were finalists in the Crime Fiction Category (from left to right):
Yours truly for my novel: Wendigo
Sandra Neily for her novel: Deadly Trespass
Dick Cass for his novel: In Solo Time
Kate Flora for her novel: Death Warmed Over
Congratulations to Dick Cass for taking home this year’s award. As for me, this was my third time as a finalist in the past four years and that ain’t bad for a hermit from Aroostook County!
Nice post, Vaughn! I used to hate revision, now embrace it, and always am glad to hear from other writers about their process. It was good to see you at the MLA event last week. All four of the nominated books were terrific and I congratulate each of you.
Writing is rewriting, as they say >_< Best of luck to you.
I have a very love-hate relationship with the revision process. Line editing is sooo gratifying, but major content editing is sooo frustrating. It's especially awful when you get through a majorly rewritten chapter, sigh and think, "Phew! At least the next several are just line edits," and then realize, no, no they are not just line edits.
Much wisdom here, Vaughn. Thanks. I couldn’t do that King thing either!
And that quote is attributed to Faukner (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7067623-in-writing-you-must-kill-your-darlings).
Now you can buy me a cup of coffee at the Stockholm General Store. I’ll be right over!
Any time…I live directly across the street
I know. I drove the kids on the lake to the store to get the bus every day. Madison rode with me for three years. She talked about you all the time. ;o)