Revisions can be hell.
I’m currently working on a revision of book 5, THE IMMORTALS. When I started, it looked like it was going to be simple. I needed to add a subplot. No big. Move a few chapters around, dump the story in the appropriate spots, read through and voila! Revision done.
Yeah. Not so fast, there, Sparky.
After staring at the computer for three days trying to decide just exactly how I wanted to do this, I realized it wasn’t going to be the snap I first thought. If I wanted to do it right, I needed to do things a little differently.
I write in a very linear fashion. There are a few times when I’ll jot notes toward the end of the manuscript of what the next chapter is about, or throw down some words to describe my climax. But for the most part, I start at the beginning and write sequentially, allowing the story to unfold as I go instead of jumping around from scene to scene.
I had a great opportunity a few months back—I was the media escort for Diana Gabaldon when she came to Nashville. Now that’s not a job I’d ever want again, because I was a stress monkey the whole day, worrying about getting her to the right place on time (you’d think since I live here I wouldn’t be so damn worried, but I was.) One of her talks, she mentioned how she builds a book. I’d heard this before, but I paid special attention this time, to see if it was something I could do.
Diana writes scenes. Separate, living, breathing entities. When she has enough of them, she starts stitching the book together. Sometimes she’ll find that the season is wrong, or the time of day, and rewrite it to match, but for the most part, the way she puts it together sounded absolutely seamless.
Now, I’m a realist. Of course it isn’t seamless. Proper chapter and scene arrangement is vital to the story – you can’t have things out of order, your readers will get confused.
So when I realized I needed to do this subplot, I decided to try it her way.
Surprisingly, it’s sort of working.
But here’s where I got stuck. The subplot revolves around a situation that happed six years earlier. You know what’s coming next. Yep, I have to write in the dreaded of all forms – the flashback.
Stop your groaning.
I’ve never written in flashback before, not extensively like I’m doing now. It’s not the easiest endeavor. Which is fine, I’m always up for a challenge. But I don’t know what the standards are. As the story unfolds, I’m seeing two things: one, it could be a book of its own, and two, I might be better served if I have a second POV. But you’re not allowed a second point of view when you’re flashing back in someone’s head, are you?
I spent a day fretting about this, then finally called New York.
My brilliant editor scoffed slightly and said, “Write it and see if it works. If it doesn’t, you’ve cost yourself nothing.” Which of course is the right answer.
It’s not the easy answer, though. No one wants to spend time exploring when they’re on deadline. I immediately mentally resisted, listing out all the reasons why I shouldn’t try – time being one of the biggest ones. I’m not much for throwing work away—when I write it, it goes in. The idea of writing scenes basically on spec to see if they might work is an anathema to me.
But in the course of all this angst, I suddenly realized what I was really asking. I wasn’t worried so much about the dual POVs in the flashback. I was asking if I could break the rules.
And since when do I ever worry about the rules?????
Happily, when I went to my office, this was the first thing I saw. It’s on my door.
“There are no rules except those you create, page by page.” ~ Stuart Woods
You can imagine the chagrin I felt. Permission? This is writing, damn it. We’re writers. We are the all-powerful creators of universes. We do what we want, when we want. We defy gravity, boundaries, planes of existence. We bring the dead to life. Yes, there are rules, but it’s our job, our mission, to break them. That’s what we do. All successful writers thumb their nose at the rules. Even Stephen King says, “Know the rules so you know when to break them.”
Ah. There’s the rub. We’re allowed to break the rules, but we have to know them first. Okay. Consider this your hall pass.
Here’s the rallying cry. Go forth, and break all the rules. Write something today that’s been eating at you, something that you’re worried about. Something your mind says won’t work. Maybe it won’t. But until you get it on paper, who knows???
When’s the last time YOU broke the rules?
Wine of the Week: 2007 Primaterra Primitivo
PS: Happy Friday the 13th!! Unlike Halloween, good things usually happen in the Ellison household on these days. I hope something good happens for you too!