My MO

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One quick note, Y’all. On Tuesday the 16th of February, we’ll have a guest blogger, Kim Harrison. Hope you’ll join us that day for a special post!

In the life of a writer, little is more boring or more necessary than the first rewrites. When I was writing mystery/thrillers, the first rewrite was between pages 100 and 150. It was there that the strands of the mystery had begun to become clear, when suspects found a face, and when the tension had started to loosen, not tighten. If I were a screenwriter, I suppose it might be the second scene of Act Two. For me it was the boring section of writing a book, but it also was the setup of the final action scene, (still so far away.) Everything that had happened to date had to fit together like the knots in a knitted scarf.

Yeah, that’s a girly analogy. And I don’t knit, so it’s foreign to me, but it is also apt. I’ve watched my mom knit and sometimes she will tear out row after row of finished scarf because she missed one stitch way back somewhere and it showed when she stopped to look at her work. 

The second rewrite was between pages 300 and 325. There the threads had to come together again, at the novel’s tightest, most tense section, had to be set up for the final scene. All the characters had to be in the right place for it to work. If I’d left a character in the wrong setting, or injured, when he needed to be elsewhere, I had to fix that, even if it meant tearing out and rewriting sections of the novel. If we go back to the scarf analogy, mom would be planning for the final rows and thinking about how she might finish the scarf, maybe with a fringe or jewels or rosettes.

I knew I was trapped in the methods I had built around my writing, but it was comfortable. It had become my MO (modus operandi). It was all I knew. This writing schedule was a format for me, something I adhered to unconsciously, but it was also a routine that confined my creative energies, like a wild bird, caged.

I kept to these page-count rewrites for every book I wrote in the mystery/thriller genre, and found several mystery-writer friends who had the same general rewrite schedule.

When I write a screenplay, my brain works very differently, almost a right brain – left brain thing. But the format of rewrites is the same as when I write M/Ts.


When I started writing fantasy, with the Rogue Mage oks, my creative self found a freedom that had been missing when writing in the M/T genre. It was like having been that wild bird, caught and caged, then suddenly set free. Now, I found that I did my first rewrite after page 200 (almost anywhere after page 200!) and the second rewrite only when I was done. I figured it was the way my brain worked with fantasy and that I’d get used to the schedule change. I did. And I found the freedom exhilarating!

Then came the Jane Yellowrock series. And I was writing a mystery/thriller/fantasy… And M/T/F. Yes, Jane is a rogue-vamp killer, in an alternate reality that includes nonhuman creatures that fall under the category of *things that go bump in the night,* but she also has to make sure she takes out the right character, the right bad-guy. She has to solve a mystery to do it.

My MO automatically went back to the M/T rewrite schedule. The format of a mystery, fit the books I was writing. I had somehow re-caged myself. But this time I didn’t care. The writing format worked for the story I was writing and that was the most important thing of all. And I thought it would stay that way.

Big surprise. The WIP had sooo many strands that I’ve done extra rewrites, and even been forced back to the ancient (for me) bubble outline (or grape outline) to make it come together. I got so lost in the story, that I had to go back to my roots to find my way forward. It worked. Finally. It took extra weeks to do it, but the strands finally came together. I have a sca—a novel.

I know some of you write more than one genre. Does your brain work differently with each genre? Does the rewrite process change? Do the strands pull together differently?

Yeah, I just finished the final *major* hardcopy rewrite of the WIP, Mercy Blade, (inputting changes now) and it goes to my editor on Friday. At which point she will send me her rewrite letter before the next round of rewrites.
How’d you guess?
Faith
FaithHunter.Net

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8 comments to My MO

  • Faith, totally agree that genre/subgenre alters the way you write so it’s crucial that you know exactly what kind of book you are producing. I struggled with that a lot early in my career because I was writing hybrids with a lot of bleed into different genres. It was impossible to use generic expectations to structure my story or the process by which I wrote it. Fastening on M/T really helped me and forced a degree of organization and self-consciousness as I tried to make the stories I wanted to tell work within a particular genre. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I now try to think of whatever book I’m writing as a kind of mystery/thriller because I find the model so useful for clarifying what the book IS, what it’s ABOUT. As a writer, you can’t wander into a mystery. There are some things you have to know and, for me, that forces some discipline and thought before I start which is very helpful, because it’s not my natural impulse but makes for a better structure.

  • Well, I’ve really forced myself to change how I do rewrites very recently. I used to keep going back and rewriting things even before I was anywhere near done with the draft. It was like, I’d get to page 20 and be nagged by something that I reread several pages back and I’d go back and rewrite that piece. And I did this all the time. Each time I stopped and went back and read the whole thing through again and then changed something else that was nagging. It actually became a bad habit, I think – one that I’m just now starting to break. I wasn’t ever getting anything accomplished. I’d get maybe 50 pages in and stall, then something else would pop into my head and I’d go off to write about that instead. Now I have a shload of stuff just kind of sitting around as a result, still waiting to be finished.

    With my sci-fi, I actually wrote a synopsis first – something I never used to do – and then forced myself to go through and write the entire book before trying to go back and change anything, and lo-and-behold! I finished it. Start to finish. Done. Recently I read through the manuscript again and found the holes and problems that jumped out at me, turning a more critical eye on it, and gave it to several people that I figured would give me some honest feedback. Now I’m starting the rewrites, beginning with what I found on my own, then onto those handed me by one of my readers. Hopefully I’ll get more before I’m done, but I think this is really going to tighten the piece up very well. However, the reader (my bro, who is a fantasy and sci-fi reader and former high school English teacher as well) also mentioned that if I wanted to get really into it, the book could actually be expanded into two. I did see this myself, but – and I’m not an authority on the subject – my guess would be that selling a two part sci-fi romance would be a little difficult, especially for a brand new author.

    Anyhoo, I think my current model will work well for whatever I write. Working so far for the urban fantasy I’m doing. Once I get that one done I’ll see how it goes on the epic fantasy and the other sci-fi.

    As far as the brain working different, I’d say I definitely think of the plot development and the characters a bit different, but that doesn’t bleed into the revision aspects of writing it. My technical side pretty much stays the same.

  • AJ, M/T really does force the brain to work in different ways. When I wrote womens fiction, it was more freeform. I used the bubble/grape outlines to plot through a book, and from that format created a linear outline to go to the editor/agent. I never do that now. Well, until this WIP. And the rewrite process was different then too, less structured.

    Daniel, when I started out it was to constantly rewrite. I was sooo sick of books when I was done! You have no idea! Well — okay, maybe you do!

    The market is changing so fast, I’d hate to hazard a guess about a two-parter series. These days someone might go for it, and release the first and second books back to back to create interest and build readership. Who knows.

  • Emily

    Daniel> I did the same thing… I’d want to stop and rewrite everything. Now, I took advice I heard in a workshop, and am just finishing the (insert explitive here) thing! I have a ton of changes that I know have to happen, but I’ve been keeping them as notes. And I found that if I’d gone back and rewritten stuff, I’d have been dpoing it pointlessly, because the ending changed in my mind again. So, now that I’ve got the ending set (I’m almost done with the first draft) I’m going to get it written, go back and reread the whole thing, and edit it. I’m sure looking at the whole piece I’ll see things that need changing.

    I did encorporate the changes into the stuff I hadn’t written yet. As I wrote later chapters, I just wrote them as if I had gone back and made the changes I will go back and make, so it wasn’t like I wasn’t writing the book I wanted to write.

  • My wife suggests that it’s probably not a good idea to do a two part romance. This is just from her own perspective as a reader of the genre. I’m still mulling it over. Got a number of things to fix till I get to the part where I’ll need to worry about it.

  • Emily, let us know when you get the first rough done. We’ll cheer with you!

    Daniel, I admit that I stopped reading the genre a long time ago.

  • I’ve been a writer of epic fantasy for so long that now that I’ve moved to something different I’m finding that I need to relearn process a little bit. It’s frightening in a way — I’ve been doing this a long time and I now feel like the proverbial old dog being forced into new tricks – -but it’s also exciting. I like the stuff I’m writing and, maybe just as important, I like NOT writing the stuff I’ve already done, if that makes sense. Not sure what this will mean for my rewrites, or any other part of my process for that matter, but I do feel like I’m working new muscles.

  • I wondered if you would comment, David. When I switched genres it was … um … almost disorienting. *Creative vertigo!* Mostly in a good way, but not totally.

    Creativity requires challenge and new thought processes and new format. My mom is an artist who loves working in acrylics, but sometimes she starts something waaaay out there and loves it!