Saturday, September 18, 2010
When Revising Becomes an Ugly Tattoo
So I noticed something after turning in my last round of revisions to my agent: Sometimes revisions are like an ugly tattoo. It's the ink you get when you're drunk, or feeling impulsive, or on a dare. A week later, you look at the monstrosity on your arm and go to another tattoo artist and beg her to fix it! But it's HUGE. And even after she covers the portrait of--who the hell is that, anyway?--you realize the overlaying tattoo has made it bigger and even uglier than it was before!
Now, this is not to say that the writing was bad. In my case, the editor who's looking at my MS wanted me to change certain aspects in regards to the story's tone. You'd think that would be easy, but after revising the first chapter three times, I found that it had become irreparable. The realization came from a much deserved chiding from my agent. I'd sort-of lost focus somewhere in the revision process. I hadn't done my writing justice with the revisions. My agent was 100% right. Essentially, the entire chapter had to be scrapped and re-written.
I thought about why the revisions hadn't worked. I started out with my original chapter: the foundation of the book, the first glimpse of my characters and their personalities. Then, after the editor's feedback, I took that first chapter and rather than removing the elements she didn't like, I added another layer. When she asked for just a little bit more, I poured it on thick, adding yet another ugly layer to the previous two. I didn't remove what wasn't working, I just kept adding, and adding, and adding. What I ended up with was a friggin' mess.
In most cases, revisions are quick and easy fixes. A tweak here, a scene there... But if you have to change an entire element, I've learned it's best to to just start over. When I re-wrote the chapter this last time, I had a long talk with my characters prior to starting. I reminded myself of who they were, what they wanted, and how they ABSOLUTELY would NOT act. Then I hit the keyboard. The end result was a chapter that kept the integrity of my characters personalities intact. It laid down the foundation that I had originally laid while at the same time incorporating the story elements that my agent and the interested editor wanted. And when I turned the chapter in to my agent she said, "You nailed it!" I had essentially performed laser ink removal on that ugly tattoo that was my first chapter. Sometimes all you need is a blank canvas!