I didn’t think overwriting would happen in my book. I’m a re-writer, not a reviser, so instead of trimming the fat and beveling the edges and picking at each word until it’s perfect, I usually just scrap a scene completely and start over if it’s just not cutting it for me. That strategy’s worked pretty well so far; it’s like losing a document in a computer crash before you’ve saved it, but then the second time around is obviously better than the first now that your brain has had some time to work through it.
Or maybe I just think that’s the case, and I’m actually overwriting this book to death.
It’s a problem of setup. In this novel, an agonizingly specific set of events need to occur in order to send the two heroes off on their journey, and the difficulty lies in A) introducing the status quo naturally and as quickly as possible, B) getting the order of events right that change the status quo, and C) making the actions of each character leading to the next event completely believable and inevitable. All of this has proven far more complicated than I anticipated when I began planning this novel. As my friend Amber Keyser put it, “It needs to be like a raging river carrying you along, unstoppable.” (Yes, it does make me feel better to know other writers–very talented writers–also struggle with setups.)
So instead of finagling each scene a little when I get feedback from critique partners/writing group/writer friends, I keep starting over. I have three drafts of one character introduction, and not one of those drafts has satisfied everyone.
“I want less,” one person in my critique group said. “I want it to start right when things get interesting.”
Okay. I did that. I chopped everything at the beginning and launched right into the moment my two heroes meet.
“I want more,” another person said. “I want to know a little bit about the boy before we meet him.”
Oh. Well. Okay. That’s pretty different from the other feedback I got, but maybe he’s right–maybe, when I chopped the beginning, I chopped it too close to the scalp. Perhaps I got carried away. But much like trimming a tree, once the branch’s gone, it’s a bit tricky to get it back again.
I tried anyway. I started over at the beginning, wondering: What do readers need to think and feel about this character right away? How can I slip in the status quo and then immediately set it on fire?
I wrote a thing. I didn’t particularly like it or dislike it. It just was, and that should have been my first sign.
I sent it over to one of my critique partners. He wrote back, “It reads like you checked off all the boxes. Introduce this character, this conflict, check, check.”
Frost’s first chapter had lost all heart and feeling and magic. It was soulless.
I’ll not lie; I had a little meltdown right about then. I rifled through my files and pulled out the first version of the whole manuscript, printed out on paper and only half-read. I pored over my first stab at Frost’s intro; and there it was. The magic. It was wordy and long, but there was soul in it. So much soul. I was still new to Frost when I wrote it; I was discovering him, falling in love with him as my hero.
Assembling all three versions–the first go, the chopped second, the mechanical third–I picked what parts I wanted and what parts would go. I’m still cobbling them together in a way that makes sense, while adding, refining, and trimming. I’m not sure if it’s going to work.
But what I’ve decided is this: I’m not going to show it to anyone. I have to just trust my gut on this, and keep moving forward.