Monday, January 23, 2012

From First to Final: A Journey Through Edits


In conjunction with the lovely (and newly Printz honor award winning! I loved THE SCORPIO RACES, one of my favorites from last year) Maggie Stiefvater and a bunch of other authors (click on link to view a list of all the participants!), I thought I'd give you an actual glimpse into what happens between a first draft and a final. I do have some huge overhauls I've done with other books, but PARANORMALCY managed to stay fairly intact. That doesn't mean it didn't get redlined and cleaned up like crazy, though.

I've copied the very first version of the first half of the very first chapter (pulled from my email from 2009, when I sent it to Natalie Whipple under the title "A Present"), and then shown the markings for how it varies from this to the final version, along with commentary on why I did what I did. I hope it's helpful!

Chapter One: Oh, Bite Me
  Like I’d never seen this one before.  I might be sixteen, but trust me, I’ve seen a lot of things in my lifetime.  And what I was looking at right now was so utterly unoriginal I actually yawned.
We cut this opening paragraph entirely, feeling that starting with the vampire reaction was a stronger setup. It rendered this paragraph redundant. The fact that she is yawning is enough to tell us she's not impressed by vampires. Also, I didn't start out with chapter titles, but added them pretty quickly in the first draft.

“Wait—did you—you just yawned!”  The vampire’s arms, raised threateningly over his head in the classic Nosferatu Dracula pose, dropped to his sides.  He pulled his exaggerated, gleaming white fangs back behind his blood red lips.  “What, imminent death isn’t exciting enough for you?”
Ah, Nosferatu. You'll always be my favorite, but you aren't as instantly recognizable to the masses as Dracula and were thus replaced. It's important to keep audience in mind when making cultural references. Writing for teens is not writing for my generation, and the cultural touchstones everyone recognizes are different. I also cut just a few of the descriptors--here we have exaggerated, gleaming, white, and blood red. A little much. 

            “Oh, stop pouting.  But really—the widow’s peak?  The pale skin?  The black cape?  Where did you even get that thing, a fetish costume store?”
Hee. Yeah, decided to cut the reference to a fetish store, given that this is a book for twelve-and-up. I dialed back a lot of Evie's commentary in edits. If you can say one funny thing instead of two, probably best to go for one.

            He raised himself to his full height—just over six feet—and glared icily down at me.  “I’m going to suck your life from your pretty white neck,” he whispered.
We don't need to know exactly how tall he is. Glaring icily down lets us know he's taller than Evie. I also cut about 75% of my dialog tags in revisions, always. Be ruthless with dialog tags.

            “Go ahead,” I sighed.  I hated the vamp jobs.  First of all, they all think they’re so suave—it’s not enough for them to just slaughter and eat you like a zombie would.  No, they want it to be all sexy, too.  And trust me: vampires?  Not.  Sexy.  I mean, sure, their glamours can be pretty hot sometimes, but the desiccated, dry-as-bone corpse bodies shimmering underneath?  Nothing attractive there.  Not that anyone else can see them, though.
            He lunged forward; He hissed; just as he reached for my neck, I tased him.
            What, you were expecting holy water?  A cross?  A stake?  Please.  I’m here was there to bag and tag, not to kill.  Besides, if I had to carry separate weapons for every single paranormal I take took out, I’d be dragging around a full luggage set.  Tasers are a one-size-fits-all paranormal butt kicking option.  Mine’s pink, with rhinestones.  Tasey and I have had a lot of good times together. 
More cleaning, refining, taking out unnecessary words. A lot of editing Evie is pulling her back--cutting down the number of times she addresses the reader, eliminating a good bulk of her running commentary. Also, and this is weird, I have always hated that I let the copyeditors take out that comma in the middle of "Mine's pink, with rhinestones." In my head she says it with a pause. I should have fought for that comma.

            Oh yeah, the vampire.  He was twitching The vamp twitched on the ground, unconscious.  He actually looked really kind of pathetic now; I almost felt bad for him.  Imagine your grandpa.  Now imagine your grandpa minus fifty pounds.  Now imagine your grandpa plus 200 years.  That’s who I just sent a whole bunch of electricity through I'd just electrified.
Messy, messy. More cleaning, streamlining, tightening. I also had to be careful not to let Evie pull the reader out of the narrative too much, which is what her "Oh yeah, the vampire." thing did--reminded the reader she'd been off on a tangent and that they needed to get back to the story.

            Tasey’s work done, I reholstered her and pulled out the vamp-specific ankle bracelet.  Bracelet being a loose definition of a fairly complicated and bulky device.  They’d been streamlined in the last few years—you should have seen the early versions.  It was like the difference between that great big camera your dad used to take pictures with when he was a teenager and your sleek, slim digital camera.  And still they complain.
Again, too much explaining. I took out a lot of her explanations (though I still kept her talking directly to the reader as a narrative device, just in moderation) because I needed to trust my reader to a) suspend disbelief and b) wait long enough to get answers about just who she was and what she was doing. A mistake I (and many writers) make in first drafts is not trusting the reader. You give them just enough to hook them--they'll keep reading to get answers. They don't need you to hold their hand through the first few chapters. I find my first chapters always lose the most lines out of any sections. That's okay! First chapters are when I am feeling out voice and setting up world. Sometimes I need to write things for me and then lose them later on.

I'm going to stop there; I think you have a clear enough idea of what my edits look like. It's all about tightening, refining, streamlining. Don't use four bland details when you can use two really good ones. Don't have something happen and then have your narrator think about exactly what just happened. Don't underestimate readers' ability to go along with you. These are things I have to remind myself every single book! Also worth noting is that many of these edits were my own, but several of them were also suggestions from my crit partners and my phenomenal editor, Erica Sussman. Sometimes you stop being able to see your own writing; this is where working with people smarter than you comes in handy.

31 comments:

Lucy V Morgan said...

Thanks for this--very interesting. I am always trying to be sparser with words, but it's so easy to get carried away...

Kiersten White said...

Totally okay to get carried away in a first draft! That's what first drafts are for. Polish is for edits : )

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

That's great stuff. Thanks :) As someone perpetually in edits it's good to see this stuff and get reminders

Leigh said...

This is great. Thanks for doing this! I just started my first ever round of revisions on a whole novel so I love reading these. It's great to know how much thought goes into what words are there and even what words aren't there.

Whirlochre said...

Thanks for sharing the Evieolution of this particular scene — it happens to be one of my favourites.

What's interesting is how it gets better and clearer the more some of the initial 'clarity' is removed.

Even more interesting is the fuzziness of commas. I'm forever removing them and adding them as I read through my stuff aloud and it's like the punctuation equivalent of trying on fake eyelashes in a beauty store (not that I ever shop in such places).

Even even more interesting is how much of your initial work makes the final edit. A word added here, a sentence trimmed there, maybe, but what you ended with is pretty similar to what you started with.

So pleased you didn't go with "a big fat zit on the end of my nose" after the initial (original) "Like I'd never seen this one before" line or Evie might not have made it through the edits without being carpet bombed.

meganwagnerlloyd said...

This is so interesting! I'm working on a rough draft and it's encouraging to me to see how much you were able to tighten things up in revision.

Virginia said...

This was very enlightening. Now I've got to go get the book just to see what happens. :D

Thanks so much for letting us see what goes on behind the scenes. Gives the rest of us some ideas of how to do it ourselves.

Daisy Whitney said...

You're so organized to even have these edits to share!

Amanda Olivieri said...

Thanks so much for posting this!! It's so helpful to see what you changed and why. I read Maggie's editing post also, and I hope you guys will do more!

Anthony said...

Thanks for posting this! This was awesome.

Louis said...

Thank you so much for this - I found this as useful as Maggie's post on The Scorpio Races. It's so useful to SEE how you arrived at the edits you made, and why.
So incredibly useful for us mere aspiring mortals!

Thank you again - so much!

readerfreak22 said...

Thanks for the tips! That will really help in my writing. Did you know I am going to try to get a book published! First step is to write it though!

Tiffany said...

Thanks for this! I'm working on a manuscript rewrite now and have been pulling out my hair trying to figure out where to start, but seeing this sort of before-and-after example gives me an idea, so thanks!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing! Great edits.

-Susan

Delia said...

Extremely useful, Kiersten. Thank you.

Heather Sunseri said...

I was thinking the same thing as Daisy, above. Can't believe you even had these edits to share.

Also, I love your thought on the comma between "Mine's pink" and "with rhinestones." I totally see your point, and this sort of drives home the idea of how important copy editing really is - that yes, every comma, etc. is important.

Thanks, Kiersten, for sharing.

Melissa said...

This is an amazing blog post. Love it!

Marewolf said...

This is great! And perfect timing, I'm in the beginning of a first draft, and my internal editor is driving me nuts.

Time to let go and overwrite all I want. :)

Kelly Bryson said...

Thanks for sharing that, Kiersten. Less is more, sometimes. I try just to keep adding words in the first draft, then prune later, but it's hard bc I want it to be all perfect and shiny from the beginning:)

Rebecca T. said...

Not that I'm saying anything that hasn't been said, but this was so super helpful. Editing is the absolutely hardest thing for me and this gives me an idea of how to take the next step on my WIP :)

Olivia Haberman said...

"Don't have something happen and then have your narrator think about exactly what just happened." So true! I've been keeping that in mind while editing and it's amazing (embarrassing) how much unnecessary stuff I've cut.

Kate said...

That is really great advice! Thank you!
And don't worry, when I heard you read aloud the first part of the first chapter at TABC last year, you said "Mine's pink with rhinestones," with a pause, so when I read it myself I added the pause in. Also when I read it aloud to others (telling them they have to read this book, just listen to the first page and you'll be caught) I always add the pause in. :)

Madeleine said...

This is so neat! I am terrible with revisions. Not only do I hate doing them, but I am also very bad at them. Whatever comes out is either changed to much or hardly at all. This was a nice example of something that actually works! ;)

Kathryn Purdie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathryn Purdie said...

Fascinating. Most interesting to me was your less is more advice, as far as background info goes. It's so hard, when writing fantasy or paranormal, to know how much background info is enough or not enough in the first chapters. Let me know if you have a magic formula!

Samantha Jean said...

I've wanted to see what a published writer's revision looked like for a long time. Much of what you said and did I'd heard before but not seen put onto action quite like how you shared. Very helpful and encouraging! Thanks!

Helen Peters said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this, Kiersten. I'm editing at the moment and it's so helpful to see somebody else's process. Also - what a great opening! Thank you again.

Renee Sweet said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I really appreciate the insight!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this glimpse into the editing process! It's really fascinating and helpful.

-Christine from Arizona

mbc said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! Lots of authors talk about the ruthless slashing that is revision but it is completely different to actually see how it works. You've given me some much needed confidence to continue on with my own first draft knowing I can fix it later. Thank you!

Christy said...

Thanks Kiersten, those edits are helpful. It also makes me realize the all important fact that I can just write in a first draft and it doesn't have to be perfect. Then I can go back and edit later.