You know how you work so hard to get that first draft down on the page? How you sacrifice comfort, companionship and casual entertainment, family time, work time, leisure time, exercise, sleep, nutrition, freedom from toxins, sobriety, eventually your very sanity—all for the sake of that novel?
Then you suffer the hellfires of the damned in revision?
Then you realize in a blinding flash of epiphany it’s a huge piece of crap and start the whole cycle over again? Because you want that badly for it to be good?
And then you finally, finally, finally have a manuscript you’re proud of, a beautiful, heartfelt evocation of everything you needed to say in exactly the way you needed to say it, and you hire an editor, and send that baby off. . .and it comes back. . .all EDITED.
What the hell?
Such a thankless task it is. These are the things every writer—even you, even me—always, by necessity, overlooks:
You outlined it. Swear to god, you did. And you did your blessed best to stick to that outline. But everyone knows characters have no respect for their maker, they go tripping off with their heads in the clouds, or in the sand, or under a rock, their fingers in their ears, singing, “la-la-la-la-la-la—I can’t HEAR you!” while you’re leaping up and down shrieking, “It’s a cliff! You idiots! You’re going to die a horrible death! Watch your stupid—! damn. Back to the drawingboard.”
I don’t care how carefully you planned your story or how meticulously you adhered to your plan, there is stuff in there that makes no sense. You know why? Because you have a great imagination, that’s why. And there simply isn’t enough story in the world to sensibly organize absolutely everything you’re capable of thinking up.
Closely related to all-out chaos, these are slightly better-developed detours. Your characters come up with cool stuff to do that has nothing whatever to do with your story, but they’ve got you convinced it’s okay because, hey! they can get a whole lot done while they’re doing it. So you follow them dutifully, writing it all down, shaping it and molding it for climax and polishing the language, thinking, “Maybe there’ll be a spot for it.”
But there’s not. Bummer about that. So you shoehorn it in—not because it works—but because you simply can’t bear to leave it out.
Oh, the words. Words, and words, and words, and words. It’s not your fault. It just comes out of you that way.
Everybody uses more words than necessary, because it takes that many words to get the golden nuggets mined out of your subconscious and onto the page. Then you go back and bravely cut out 25% of them. But there’s another 25% that needs to come out, and you’re faced with a choice: this 25%? or that 25%? or some impossibly intricate, interwoven combination of the two? And what about the other 25%—is that all good, or are you missing something important that needs to be cut out of there, too?
And your vision goes swimmy, your head starts lolling around on your neck, there’s a ringing in your ears, and the next thing you know you’re on the floor under your desk biting your knuckles and twitching convulsively.
You just don’t know.
The single most fundamental fact about the craft of fiction is the impassable abyss between what the writer sees on the page and what the reader sees. You see absolutely everything. Some of it you don’t even get around to writing down. And when you come back for revision, you automatically doubt every single instinct you had in the original writing about what the reader can tell is going on and what’s just a bunch of gibberish.
So you help them out. You insert a lot of useful, enlightening paragraphs meant to focus their telescope for them as they peer, eternally short-sighted, across that abyss at the world you happen to know is far more vivid and brilliant and meaningful than they can ever discern from such a distance.
And this one’s due to sheer, helpless, futile, blind hope. You know perfectly well that Climax doesn’t do it. But, oh, my ever-loving god, you have been through this entire manuscript so many times, so faithfully, so laboriously, so intently. There is no more blood in the stone.
What are the chances that Climax works just exactly PERFECTLY, and you simply can’t see it for all the sweat and tears blurring your eyes?
What the hell, you know?
Remember: just because you overlooked this stuff, simply by putting yourself out there and being a writer, you still have 8 Wonderful Lessons to Learn From Screwing Up Your Manuscript.
The Art and Craft of Fiction: A Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“The freshest and most relevant advice you’ll find.”
—Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
“Wonderfully useful, bracing and humorous. . .it demystifies the essential aspects of the craft while paying homage to the art.”
—Millicent Dillon, five time O.Henry Award winner and author of the PEN/Faulkner-nominated Harry Gold
“Teeming with gold. . .will make you love being a writer if only because you belong to the special little club that gets to read this book.”
—KM Weiland, author of Outlining Your Novel
The Art and Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner’s Manual
by Victoria Mixon
“Opinionated, rumbunctious, sharp and always entertaining. . .lessons of a writing lifetime.”
—Roz Morris, best selling ghostwriter and author of Nail Your Novel
“As much a gift to writers as an indispensible resource. . .in a never-done-before manner that inspires while it teaches.Highly recommended.”
—Larry Brooks, author of four bestselling thrillers and Story Engineering
“I wish I’d had The Art & Craft of Story when I began work on my first novel.”
—Lucia Orth, author of the critically-acclaimed Baby Jesus Pawn Shop