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.