Rewrites: The Magical Solution


It all came down to one paragraph.

For the last 4 weeks, I’ve been on rewrites for my next book, Mercy Blade. It has been a rough, tough rewrite, because the plots (two of them) were equally important, interwoven, complex, and based on things that happened in 1912. And, the book needs to be intense enough for the reader to feel that thriller-style immediacy that makes urban fantasy the action-packed, fast-paced ride it is supposed to be.

Most of the rewrite suggestions were fairly straightforward:
Page 192: Has she forgotten she was pissed at Bruiser … ? Or could you take out her assertion that Bruiser knew?
Page 196: Was Tyler antagonistic to her when Leo was interrogating him?
Page 201: Does Bruiser react to her saying she fought Leo?
Page 206: Why doesn’t Jane just shift to heal herself?
See? Simple and straightforward.

However, one thing was much less easy to resolve. My editor had an ambiguous worry. To her Mercy Blade was “a really wonderful novel, but…” somewhere between page 260 and 313, something was wrong. And it was that *but* that had me worried. Because it—whatever it was—affected pacing and plot and motivation. And it slowed down the ending of the book, made Jane Yellowrock less likeable. Frankly, it spoiled the book and gave the reader a lot less bang for his buck. My editor showed me a dozen instances of things that had gone wrong after page 313, but didn’t, perhaps couldn’t, point out the exact point/moment where the damage started. It wasn’t her job, actually to find and fix the problem. It was mine.

Lately, rewrites have worked out (though not always) like this:
7 – 10 days thinking about it.
7 days working on/in the little, easy suggestions.
2 weeks on the difficult, interwoven, plot, conflict, and character-based changes.

But (that word again) this book was different. I spent 14 days thinking. Just thinking. 5 days on little stuff. And 4 weeks, so far, on the hard part of the rewrite. The plot lines needed to be woven tighter. Did that. One of the bad guys was too obvious. Fixed that. Other bad guy was revealed too soon. Fixed that. His motivations needed to be more internally consistent. Done. Yet, that *but* still hung there in the air, in the back of my mind. Deadline is Friday. And just yesterday I finally figured out what was wrong.

It was one paragraph. Six lines. 85 words.

That paragraph turned the ending into so much mush. I’d share it with you but it’s gone now. The end of Mercy Blade will be much better as I clear away all the detritus and scum that accumulated because of that one little para. In rewrites, it’s easy to discover where one took the wrong fork in the road, then backtrack and take the other branch. It’s a lot harder to find a fork that didn’t belong, then remove it, and all its little strands and dependents and dependants. But rewrites are like that. Each unique and each difficult.

And they all come back to one thing—which I seemed to forget when I wrote this book.

Each scene, each character, each plot thread (even the subplots) *must* move the main character toward resolving the main plot conflict. When we deviate, when we build and/or take the wrong fork in the road, we weaken our story. And it is up to us to fix it.


15 comments to Rewrites: The Magical Solution

  • First off, congrats on finding that one paragraph. To the rest of you, that sounds easy — finding a problem paragraph. That’s no big deal, right? Wrong. This is a book of (guessing here) 100,000 to 110,000 words; literally thousands of paragraphs. Finding that one, after reading through the book again and again, being bleary-eyed from weeks of rewriting — that is no small accomplishment. Well, done.

    We make so many decisions in writing a book — from major plot points and events in our characters’ lives to tiny little shifts in wording and tone. And any one of them can change in subtle ways the trajectory of the project, either for good or ill. I have a chapter that went off the rails in the book I’ve been working on this summer, and I’m still not sure why. But you give me hope, Faith.

  • Hang in there, David. It took a lot of study, but I figured out what was wrong, and I *know* you will too!

  • It took me six months to figure that I was telling The Golden Rider the wrong way and in the wrong character’s POV. I also figured out I needed to pull back in third person onmi (which I am more comfortable writing in).

  • It never ceases to amaze me how one phrase, one sentence, or even one paragraph can make or break a tale. And when you find the one that magically ties everything together, brings home your point, and deepens your character, oh what a wondrous feeling! Congrats, Faith, on finding your problem paragraph and reworking it into something grand.

  • Sarah

    Congrats on finding the problem! It’s comforting to me to know that just thinking is really part of the writing process for you too. I spent about a week and a half in early spring not writing a word, but thinking all the time about the plot of my WIP. I just couldn’t keep writing until I figured out a major plot point. I felt like I was slacking, but when I finally untangled the plot problem I sat down and more than caught up to where I wanted to be in terms of word count. I just had to accept that sometimes the writing happens in my head, sometimes on the keyboard.

  • Wade, since you figured it ou, it was 6 mos. well spent!

    Stuart, thank you. I don’t knwo if it is grand yet, but I have fingers crossed (which makes lots of typos). 🙂

  • Sarah, thinking is a *huge* part of writing for me. It goes on for hours or days. It goes like this:

    The hubby comes in and I’m stretched out on the recliner, dogs alseep on my lap, my tea sippy cup in hand.

    Hubby: Taking a nap?
    Me: No.
    Hubby: Taking a break?
    Me: No.
    Hubby (after living with me a lot of years): Working hard?
    Me: Yep.

    Thinking! Gotta love it!

  • Sarah

    Hi Faith! You’re dialogue made me laugh. My college roommate, an engineering major, once came in, saw me with my feet propped on the windowsill, tea in hand and dreamy look on my face. She slammed her books down on the desk and said, “I wish I had time to sit around staring out the window! Some of us actually work for our grades!” The next year I roomed with an Astrophysics major who spent hours staring at tbe ceiling as she contemplated stellar formation theory. We got along much better.

  • Creativity at its best is contemplative, Sarah. The hubby understands. Which makes my life really cool!

  • Alan Kellogg

    Faith, for hardcore thinking there’s nothing like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Consulting with a cat or dog helps some.

  • It sounds to me like the magical solution is plain old hard work. I’m thrilled you found the key to making this new book work, though. Congratulations.

  • Yay!

    I completely empathize with staring into space. There is a particular angle my head puts itself at. Except in a cafe, or at the library, or on the bus, there’s usually a person in the way. And then THEY give me weird looks because they think I’m staring at them. Awkward moments FTW. 🙂

  • Alan, when I need to think and clear my mind all at the same time, I fold clothes and clean the toilets. I’ve tried consulting with the dogs,but they just think it’s time for a chew or treat.

    Edmund, yes, hard work. that too. A lotof it. deadline still looms, but I’m on the last read through now!

    Moira, I had the same problem once. I was work and I’m pretty sure this guy thought I was staring at his … um … in a place I shouldn’t be staring. And then I started laughing (at myself) which only made it worse. Poor guy.

  • mudepoz

    *Big smile* Makes me glad I preordered.

  • […] At Magical Words: ♣ David B. Coe dishes out some remarkable advice for writers (like myself) who have struggled to condense their stories into a “pitch,” and he does so by analogy to photography.  Great stuff! ♣ Edmund Schubert discusses the importance of wanting in fiction. ♣ Faith Hunter explains how a single paragraph can sabotage a novel. […]