From First Draft to Finished Page: Blood, Sweat & Jeers

Maggie Stiefvater wrote an incredible post about the "Dissection of Revision," outlining part of the journey from rough WIP to finished page. It garnered so much online support, that she thought to share the love by contacting a bunch of other authors and inviting them to dissect their own writing in similar fashion, and since I'm all about Paying It Forward, I was thrilled to take part in taking apart!

Now, granted, I have little to no technical skill and this post gives thanks to a lot of smart people (mostly my husband, the Ever-Patient One) and due in no small part to the begging/pleading/ranting at the various machines in my office to comply with one another, but herein lies the result: the opening scene of Chapter Two of LUMINOUS, broken down into (appropriately enough) thirteen points to consider at a safe distance, preferably with a hardcover copy handy!

YE OLDE ROUGH DRAFT:

Can you tell I'm a scribbler? I always print draft copies so I can go over them longhand and read them aloud to myself without undo eye-strain. Some of it's even legible!

1) I want to open with where we are, but since it's a place that's only slightly familiar to Consuela, I want to hint at details she might remember. The most important thing for me is the powerful double-message of the last line. I prefer closers to be short cappers with punch.
2) I like to read drafts aloud to see where words might sound more or less natural to the ear. This also helps me balance how many times to use proper names versus pronouns. (This is one of the challenges of using the third person POV as opposed to the more popular first.) This is a long, meandering sentence because she is meandering along and it ends with finding what she's looking for: Rodriguez, the last shorter paragraph like a period at the end of the sentence.
3) There's another person in this scene and I better get to him quickly before it reads like an afterthought! The word that is most important is "hunched" because it shows a lot about the posture and attitude of this person without having to explain a long-winded why. I like the contrasting images of a "hunched" person in a "worn" jacket holding a "cold," "silver" butterfly knife.
4) The butterfly knife is a focal point for the majority of this scene. "Butterfly" is the type of knife, but it has light and airy connotations. Throughout the rest of the text, I'll use the more powerful and dangerous word, "knife." Rodriguez's character evolves from one back to the other.
5) This is the first time the reader will see Consuela interact with someone she's called to save. I want her to be aware of his sensory experience, but this early draft reflects a lot of my need to understand what I want to say. Many of these extraneous words will be cut.
6) I don't want Consuela to read too much into what is happening or might happen, I want her to have a more benevolent POV, but not overdo it. Again, I tend to overwrite, so when I find myself struggling to find the right word to capture exactly what I want to say, I often end up cutting the whole line. If it's too hard, I'm probably fighting with myself to preserve some darling or other. Cut.
7) This is one of those traps I often fall into: action should be attributed to the person, not a part of their body. I do a lot with eyes and hands to express thoughts and feelings...and then I more than often search and "Find" all the "look," "glare," "glance," "stare," etc. and erase/replace them. (I also liked the contrast of having something as solid as "stone" and as delicate as "moth" attributed to the same person.) I want the reader to pay attention to the intense interaction between these two people, not be distracted by their body parts.
8) Strong capper line, but it uses "like." I'd rather say something "is" than say it's "like" something else. That's stronger. I'm also thinking of pacing.
9) After the tension, I wanted to return to the sort of quiet at the beginning of the chapter and have those more human, reflective thoughts trickle in. That easing back reflects moving away from a brush with death back to life. It's good to think of the series: Action, Reaction, Reflection, Decision, then back to the next Action. Lather, rinse, repeat.
10) Short, choppy sentences are the quickest way to show rapid-fire thought patterns, IMO. It also shows Consuela's growing confidence in herself.
11) "Looking" = AHHH! And it slows down the action taking place in a new surrounding, stirring up the first clues of a mystery. Best to hurry it up.
12) Again, how many details do I really need here? Many of them are for me, the writer, and will disappear when I have more confidence in myself and my smart 'n' savvy audience. This is the first time we ever hear of Sissy and I have to capture her "voice" (quite literally) in this one first line.
13) I wanted to drop a hint of what surprises were coming next (the Toy Surprise in the Happy Meal box!) so we're compelled to read on and find out what happens next. I also liked the contrast of the otherworldly/magical along with ordinary objects, the "cell phone" and the Happy Meal box. I tend to write "bookends" where the beginning and end of a scene/chapter/story often reflect one another. Both the beginning and the ending involved smooth, gliding movement.

SHINY, HAPPY FINAL DRAFT:

1) In case you didn't know why more people don't put a ton of famous quotes in their books, I learned that not only was it my responsibility to get permission to use these quotes (and these were translations into English, which involved a second party) but it was also my responsibility to purchase them for use in the book. I had no idea what I was getting into, but these Octavio Paz quotes were important to me, so I kept them with my editor's blessing.
2) I ended up tightening-up the first paragraph by shedding some excess details. Many times less is more and "tightening" is a nice-sounding word for "cutting with purpose." It helps move the action forward and picks up the pace.
3) I kept "hunched" but cut some of the other details that delayed me getting there. Less is more and Rodriguez is a "hunched" guy in a "worn leather jacket" holding a "knife" and wearing a "gold cross." That's all he really needs. (Note the cool font they used for Sunrise Park as opposed to my single quotes!)
4) It's a call when to use short, choppy lines and when to string them together to make a long, complete image. This was a good example of how I changed one for the other. The pacing changes so it feels more like Consuela's physical approach in the storyline.
5) Again, less is more. (I cringe when I see how many "like" phrases I'm still using. Blech.)
6) That last sentence? The one where I struggled to find the right words? Gone. Now the paragraph has that clean, almost detached air I want in a proto-guardian-angel on her first time out, going on instinct.
7) I wanted to point out where even in final copy, things can slip through. "fear" shouldn't be italicized, but "Breathe," should. Maybe you didn't notice it, but I do. EVERY time.
8) It was important for me to use natural imagery and sensory words to underscore that Rodriguez is choosing to live life as opposed to death. The words I use for Consuela with him are "ruffled," "playfully" and "child."
9) This line works a lot better now. It uses an action verb--always the better choice!
10) Pacing: short, fast bursts after a longer exposition, circling her reflective thoughts back to herself.
11) Removed the "Looking" and now Consuela is in her new space doing something. Noun, verb, noun. This changes the scene from passive to active and helps establish Consuela as a person who *does things* proactively.
12) By removing the extraneous details, I move the action forward and trust my readers more. By now, I am familiar enough with the story that I don't need to build in such a thick cushion of explanation to justify what I want to say.
13) Nothing says "finished copy" more than a pretty icon for your scene breaks!

And, finally, here we are:

AN ILLUSTRATED SUMMARY FROM FIRST DRAFT TO FINAL PAGE

While this might look like a simple a-to-b linear travelogue, I assure you this went through all the alphabet and then some! There was anywhere between five and a dozen drafts of portions of the manuscript to the whole enchilada and much of its gold was thanks to the editors, copy editors, critique partners and supporting cast. The one thing I really learned from this process was that a printed book is truly a work of art.

I hope that this was helpful, or at least amusing, because the #1 thing we can do for one another as writers in the field is Pay It Forward! Thanks, all! If you have any questions, feel free to plunk them in the comments.

Peace and fluffy kittens.

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