Okay, so. This is the last post before Enforced Blog Silence, and I wanted to make it count. What I’m giving you now is what’s known as actual writing-related content. (I know, I know—we don’t necessarily see a lot of that around here.)
What happened is, Maggie Stiefvater recently wrote a wonderful and highly detailed post dissecting the intricacies of revision, and the response was tremendous. The resulting discussion involved a lot of people saying they wished more authors would share their process with this same level of detail, and since Maggie is by nature a helpful and motivated person (also, she is organized), she asked a bunch of us if we’d be willing to participate in what has essentially become a series!
When I signed up for this, I thought for sure that I’d be making an absolute fool of myself— possibly even revealing the depths of my crazy-looking writing process. But I’ve surprised myself.
It turns out that while my early attempts at story-telling are always plagued by rogue commas and brackets, full of strange gaps and cryptic notes, by the time I reach a completed draft, it actually looks pretty … normal.
The post that follows is really long.
Also, there is one F-bomb, just so you know. I try to keep this place at least marginally compliant with school and parental internet filters because I don’t want people being FORBIDDEN from my blog. However, since the F-bomb is contained in a screenshot of my manuscript, I think we’ll be okay. To put it another way: I don’t actually write very clean books.
I know—you are not surprised. But I felt I should probably say it anyway.
Here are two pages of The Space Between, documenting Daphne’s first moments on Earth. (Click to embiggen.)
- Setting the scene—but it’s really just a post-it note to myself. Later, I’ll decide to give this opening a little more context. Not a lot, not too much, but a little.
- This is pertinent because Daphne comes from a place where the whole environment is pretty much grayscale-plus-red. A blue sky is something she would most certainly have expectations about.
- An attempt to describe the experience of temperature, while cursing myself for naively deciding to write from the perspective of someone who has no prior experience with any kind of physical sensation.
- Again, trying to show Daphne working to make sense of things she’s never had to think about before—in this instance, the concept of time—but it’s hitting the page in a very abstract way.
- Presenting the world as a series of units, not only in an attempt to convey sheer size, but because Daphne has a tendency to break any large idea into manageable pieces.
- She’s conscious that her appearance/presence could be interpreted as unusual, but in true Daphne-form, the understanding is very dispassionate. This is really another instance of me working to pin down her voice
- Daphne’s entire notion of Earth has always come from a purely visual representation, and now it’s expanding to encompass other senses.
- Reiterating the separation between what she’s experienced before and then, what the world is actually like.
- Daphne’s voice developing, inventing her own vocabulary to describe all these concepts she doesn’t have any practical knowledge of.
- An action that shows how naturally compliant Daphne is, how ready to be obliging.
- This is Daphne focusing on small details because they seem fascinating, rather than big ones that might tell her something pertinent about the situation.
- Again, a sense of pure curiosity, taking an interest in every piece of new information.
- Misinterpreting what ought to be a recognizable threat. Throughout the book, Daphne typically attributes good intentions to people, and particularly to human people.
- Responding to the object rather than the gesture, inability/disinclination to read intention.
- Not a taunt or a challenge, but a purely honest question.
- The first indication that Daphne has some exciting new abilities she doesn’t have at home.
- Still trying to find Daphne’s voice when it comes to sensory details, while also demonstrating that she’s totally unshocked by the fact that she just burned a man with her hands.
- Reiterating that Daphne is a pragmatist above all things. Even post-mugging, she’s still focused on the knife, which happens to be the most beautiful thing on hand.
- An interesting realization. Daphne is voicing a concern that will deepen and come up for her again and again—all these troubling ideas about being bad and how she got that way
- Even in this completely new environment, she’s carrying a lot of the person she was at home in Pandemonium—easily distracted by anything pretty or interesting. Her radio dial is still tuned almost exclusively to novelty.
- In the interim, I have added … chapter titles!
- This is deceptive, because in the rough draft, this chapter is designated number five, so it would be totally reasonable to assume the beginning of the book got longer in revision. But no, is actually shorter. I just broke up some of the earlier chapters.
- It’s actually been a little while since we were in Daphne’s POV, so I needed a sentence to remind us where she was when we left her, in order to set the new scene.
- Daphne’s voice has solidified over the course of revisions, and she’s definitively become an “expected” sort of person, rather than an “imagined” one.
- In keeping with that, she’s consistently more factual, more direct.
- As Daphne’s character began to develop, there’s a new layer—this idea of otherness and what it means to be a demon on earth, what makes it different from home. It hasn’t really come to light yet, but I’ve added some small exploration throughout so that when we get to it, the big issues don’t come as a surprise.
- I’m working to crystallize the way Daphne expresses the idea of time. The revision process has made her much more concrete in the way she assesses situations. It’s a pretty dreamy book in terms of tone, and I ultimately felt like Daphne needed to offset that, rather than exacerbate it. Urgency seemed way more abstract than simply getting down to business and trying to quantify the amount of time she has at her disposal.
- While early Daphne was quite comfortable referring to a map, this Daphne feels a definite sense of ownership over everything she’s brought with her.
- The character has evolved enough to know what Cicero is, but not necessarily the geographical location.
- This is a rare example of revising to be less specific.
- To that end, I decided I didn’t need to describe the map, but rather Daphne’s very casual reaction to the size of the world.
- Adding some context to the interaction. Even though the extra dialogue doesn’t tell us a lot about the speaker, it gives us a little bit more than the previous generic disembodied voice.
- This gives the reader a clearer idea of where the man is standing in relation to Daphne and how that reflects the geography under the bridge. Also, I felt like in the original version, it was unrealistic that he would be able to come so close without her noticing, so here I’ve moved him a little farther away.
- Changed the description to something more physically specific, less impressionistic.
- Ditto above.
- I rephrased this to make the paragraph flow better and also to further downplay the ease with which she follows him.
- I took out the reference to thorns because I wanted to knife to seem totally harmless in all aspects, even little tiny superficial ones.
- Added Then to give the action a greater sense of force/aggression. This is when she finally interprets the situation, and I feel like the then gives it a little sprinkle of shock—why is he being so unreasonable?!
As you can see (you can, right—I’m not making this up?), my rough draft is all about the character. I almost always use my early versions of stories to find character and voice, get a sense of what they notice, what they sound like, what they think about. And then by the later drafts, it’s mostly a matter of kind of shaping that character, defining them, sanding off the edges, and turning my attention to the surroundings.
Also, I want to just take a second to address the fact that apart from bunches of little nitpicky stuff, not a lot about this scene has changed from rough to final, even though the book actually went through a lot of drafts (so, so many*).
The reason for this is that most of my revised scenes wouldn’t be remotely helpful on a line by line level because I routinely throw so much stuff out. And the line level is what this exercise is all about. Anyway, I wanted to at least explain that this tidiness is not typical of me, because otherwise I’d feel like I was lying to you.
(Also, if I’d had my pick of a billion other scenes that involved only line-changes, I would have picked one one with no F-bombs.)