My writing style has evolved over the years, with a huge change taking place in the past three months.
When I was in college (back in the Dark Ages of the early 1980s), I had a very simple system for writing: I sat down with a stack of college-ruled paper, and I wrote out my thoughts in longhand. I read over my words once, editing for grammar errors. Then, I typed up the pages, either on a Brother electric typewriter (my first two years in college), or using the Script text-formatting program on a mainframe computer that performed batch processing (my last two years.) I exclusively wrote non-fiction, and this system worked well enough for me to graduate with honors.
When I was an associate in a law firm, I modified the process somewhat. I still wrote exclusively non-fiction. While I originally wrote out my documents longhand, I became a relatively early convert to an ancient version of WordPerfect, and I typed directly onto my monochromatic computer monitor. I edited my briefs (despite their name, long documents intended to make a coherent legal argument) two or three times, often modifying word-choice, and occasionally moving a complete paragraph of text. I still ended with one final grammar-based editing pass.
When I wrote my first published novel, I followed my more-or-less tried-and-true system. I drafted THE GLASSWRIGHTS’ APPRENTICE from start to finish. Then, I went back to page one and edited the story, deleting extra paragraphs of weighty, unwieldy description, adding brief sentences or paragraphs of plot support as needed. (And yes, once again, I ended with a grammar-correcting pass.)
As I finished drafting my thirteenth to-be-published novel, BITE AFTER BITE, earlier this week, I realized that my process had undergone a tremendous change. BITE has represented new writing territory to me in a number of ways. First, it was the first novel I wrote specifically at an editor’s request — my editor asked me to create a vampire series with “that Mindy Klasky feel” (by which she meant light, humorous romance.) Second, it was the first novel that I wrote in six months, instead of the year that I had enjoyed before (and those six months became three months, due to a long string of delays-not-of-my-making.) Third, it was the first novel that I wrote with a Critique Partner (a term of art stolen and modified from the romance field – really, a first reader who read the entire manuscript as a completed novel, rather than the chapter-by-chapter notes that I’ve previously received from my long-time First Reader.)
I’ll be the first to admit that I was underwater for most of time that I wrote BITE. I was on an extremely tight turnaround (see that three month thing, above), creating an entirely new-to-me world with entirely new characters, and I was treading on vampiric territory that has been so oft-visited that readers have definite expectations that authors violate at their own peril.
As a result, my first draft had some gaping holes. Those holes weren’t immediately apparent to me, but they were adeptly spotted by my Critique Partner. I quickly realized how to fix those holes – I needed to weave in new text. In fact, I wrote five entirely new chunks of 3000 words or more, filling in plot gaps, character development lacunae, and worldbuilding holes. I also found two places where I’d padded an otherwise-lean plot with 3000-word “patches”, heavy scenes that didn’t add to the story, but only slowed down the action. Finally, I realized that my entire first chapter was mere character-presentation (no plot, no meaningful furthering of the novel), and I deleted everything but the first 100 words. Oh – and there were three different scenes that I moved to new places in the manuscript.
In short, I wove an entirely new structure out of the existing fabric of my story. (OK, for you sticklers out there – not entirely new – but nearly 25% of the material was new, deleted, or moved around.) At least I finished with a grammar-editing pass (made even more important by the need to match up data acquired and/or lost in the weaving.)
The result is the strongest novel I’ve written in nearly five years. (That’s my humble opinion, of course. So far, only my agent, my editor, and I have read the final-as-submitted form.)
So. How about you? When you revise, do you weave? Do you “merely” chop, editing down to a mandated length? Do you “only” add words, fleshing out missing details? (I still believe that chopping and adding are very valid ways to edit some manuscripts!) And, as a reader, do you think you can identify “woven” texts from ones that are written in a more linear fashion?