Craft isn’t the act of putting words on the screen until you have enough of them to get to the end of the book and collect your paycheck. Craft is in the rewriting. Whether you edit each chapter as you go or you edit at the end of the first draft, you have to take those words whose sole purpose was to get the story down and refine them into a finished product.
I’m growing to throw out a paragraph or two (off the top of my head), then tweak it, just for grins.
The doorbell rang while she was painting the last shutter and she set the paintbrush down. She wasn’t expecting company and there was paint smeared on her shirt and in her hair. She opened the door to find John Smith on the other side. He was the last person she wanted to see looking like that.
He held up a bottle of wine. “I was sure which kind you’d prefer, so I bought the Bordeaux.”
Words serving a purpose—moving her from painting to opening the door to find a (presumably hot) guy standing there. Mission accomplished? Yes, except for the fact it sucks like a Dyson. See Dick run sentence structure, to start with. And not much in the way of voice. Oh, and a little “was” instead of “wasn’t” there at the end (which spellcheck wouldn’t catch, btw).
She was halfway through the last shutter when the doorbell rang. Dropping the wet brush on the lid, she looked down at the paint smeared across her t-shirt. Probably matched the streaks drying in her hair. After a quick check of her hands, she pulled open the door.
John Smith. He was the last person she wanted to see looking like that.
He held up a bottle of wine. “I wasn’t sure which kind you’d prefer, so I bought the Bordeaux.”
A little better, but that’s my dialogue, not John Smith’s. He’s a…let’s make him a cop. And I’m still not totally happy with the flow.
She was halfway through the last shutter when the doorbell rang. Dropping the wet brush on the lid, she looked down at the cranberry red smeared across her t-shirt with dismay. Probably matched the streaks drying in her hair. After a quick check of her hands, she pulled open the door.
John Smith. Crap.
He held up a bottle of wine. “Didn’t know what you’d like, so I bought the French one.”
Every paragraph. Of the entire book. That’s how you craft a story, not just stringing words together until you reach The End.
And because I happen to have the notebook at hand in which I handwrote pages of No Surrender, I can show an actual example from my work of the first rough draft passage and the finished product:
The urge to run straight through the compound, shooting anybody who got in his way, was strong. But if he got himself killed, there would be nobody to help Carmen.
That’s me, just getting the words on the page and moving the story line forward.
Plan A—balls to the wall through the compound, guns blazing as he mowed down any Matunisian motherfucker who got in his way.
Go…go…go… The urge pounded through Gallagher’s brain, demanding he haul ass, but he resisted. Stayed hidden. If he got killed, she would die. That plain, that simple.
That’s Gallagher on the page.
Step 1: Get the words on the page.
Step 2 through however many it takes: Make them good.
(And now, because I wrote this blog post instead of grocery shopping, I have no lunch. Bummer.)
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Thank you SO much, Shannon. Having just started edits of only my second novella and feeling like every word is crap–no emotion, too much telling, no zing–you have given me hope. Now I’ll go back to my edits with more confidence that all is not lost! Sorry you had to miss lunch to help me out, though. If we ever meet up at a writer’s conference, lunch is on me!
Thank you for this, very helpful info for me as an unpublished writer. :thumb:
I’m glad you guys enjoyed it!
Having just started edits of only my second novella and feeling like every word is crapâ€“no emotion, too much telling, no zingâ€“you have given me hope.
For me—and for many of the writers I know—that feeling like every word is crap is a normal part of the process.
The problem, of course, is knowing when it’s process, or when it’s crap. I’m not sure about tomorrow, but I’d actually planned another blog entry on being your own first readers—or telling the crap from the process.
Writing is rewriting. Sometimes a whole lot.
I’m in the midst of finishing up edits for my first novella. Talk about a nightmare! Going over each sentence with a microscope, hoping I haven’t missed anything important. Eesh! Makes my tummy hurt just thinking about it.
I know this article is old but thank you for it! I’m having trouble with my novel; something like writers block. Some scenes are fantastic, in my opinion, and some just suck. Thanks for the reminder to just GET IT DOWN and edit later.