It seems the Midnight Types have been stuck at 11:59 for a really long time, so hopefully this post gets the old clock wound and ticking again. It’s been a busy season of writer-related goodness, between the RT convention in New Orleans, BEA in New York, and half a dozen other exciting things in the last few months, we’ve been having trouble keeping up. It’s exciting to get back to somewhat-normal. 🙂
Yeah, I’ve been thinking about Salvador Dali a lot today. Sue me. It’s a good metaphor. Don’t look at me in that tone of voice. Shut up.
My cautionary tale for this week is something I’m still learning, nearly three years after sending out my first query letter. The scariest part of this story, at least for me, is that I was SURE I’d learned this lesson long ago. For all I know, I’ll still be learning it in another three years. Or another thirty. It’s that kind of lesson.
What chilling horror story could be so difficult to understand? Well, the very nature of horror stories gives the reader more information than the characters. That’s why they’re so terrifying to read. Surprise jump scares are scary for a split-second, but real terror builds up over pages and pages, and culminates with that awful-wonderful moment when the characters realize how deep in shit they are and how much worse their lives are about to get. THIS is the kind of intensity I’ve been hit with regarding my chosen topic. And here’s the words that strike panic into the hearts of anyone who’s ever handed their wordbaby over to an agent only to learn said wordbaby had a leaky diaper at the time. *insert Jamie Lee Curtis screaming*
During that first round of rejection, I kept writing. And I kept writing. Some agents showed interest, but asked for a rewrite. I rewrote, and resubmitted. Still, ultimate success was just out of reach. By this point, I had three novels in a series, and had rewritten the first novel twice. Well, I thought I’d rewritten it. Turns out, I sort of polished up the edges a bit, but I never understood what a real rewrite meant.
I’d always heard you should put the novel down for a while, then go back with a clear head to straighten out problems and catch plot holes, character issues, etc. I laughed at the idea of putting a novel away for an entire YEAR in order to get enough distance from it to be truly objective. I’d been waiting maybe a month between drafts, and during that time I wasn’t really distancing myself at all. I was still writing about the very same characters! It took a weird piece of advice, oddly coming to me from several different agents in the span of about a week, to go back to the beginning and write the main character’s backstory. I snort-laughed myself silly over that. Of course I can write her back story. I can write out her entire life story (pretty good for a 1900-year-old character), and it’s not even boring! She’s a warrior! She once fought Vlad Drakul! She bested the freaking Roman Empire! She’s awesome! The writing began.
It took four months of writing, researching, and rereading everything I’d written about her to realize how badly I’d treated her, writer to writee, in the first novel I wrote about her. She has this beautiful life story, and I’d reduced her to a 300 page caricature. In writing her grand history, I learned so much more about her, her abilities, her history, her personality, and what drives her to do what she does. And I learned that, dammit, I need to give her a better story.
What did I do with this revelation? I shoved everything– the entire 400k-plus words I’d ever written in that particular universe– into a box and then shoved said box under my bed.
For a year.
Does that mean I didn’t think about them? Of course not. I spent hours daydreaming new starts to her story. Days were wasted angsting about how to shuffle the major events of her life around to accommodate the story I’d already written. And I do mean wasted. Because I couldn’t rearrange her whole history to fit my already-written words. It took MONTHS to realize I had to rewrite my words to accommodate her story. It’s only fair, considering I dragged her into this world.
I’m just starting to pull everything back out again. The lengthy back story I wrote will be woven into the text. And as far as rewriting goes? Yup. Entirely rewriting. Every. Single. Word.
So now that summer is upon us, this Midnight Type will be burning midnight oil. It’s better for my scales than sitting out in the sunshine anyway.
The moral of this story is that I still might not have it right yet. I still might not be able to tell the best story for my characters yet. There might be a lot more work to do, even after essentially starting right back at the beginning again. The thing is, the only way for me to find out is to just sit down and do it. And that’s the scariest thing I’ve ever written.