Monday, August 29, 2011

My Revision Odyssey

A few days ago, I started work on the sixth draft of my novel.  This is something I’ve been avoiding, because frankly it feels a little insane.  Why after four drafts, or even five, isn’t it finished?  I have no idea.  But this has become my Odyssey, and if I don’t get to Ithaca soon, I might dive into the jaws of Charybdis!

For those who haven’t read Homer’s epic in a while, the Odyssey depicts Odysseus’ ten year journey to return to Ithaca after the end of the Trojan War.  About everything that can go wrong does go wrong on his voyage, including shipwrecks, run-ins with Cyclopes and Sirens, enslavements by a sorceress and a jealous nymph, and a really bad decision involving a bag of winds.  So, using the Odyssey as an analogy, here’s the tale of my own journey.

The First Draft – This was my siege of Troy.  It took forever and had its ups and downs, but ultimately ended in triumph.  I had finished the first draft of my first novel!  I celebrated with a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastle.  Life was good.  All I needed to do was finish another draft or two and I’d be home free, right?  Yep, bet that’s what Odysseus thought too.

First Draft Triumph!
 The Second Draft – This is where the editing and re-writing began.  It started badly, though not unexpectedly, when I realized the first draft was 142,000 words and filled with lots of bad writing.  Yet it got better quickly when the editing kicked in and turned bad writing into good.  The story started to sing.  I even shaved the length down to 131,000 words.  Again, life was good.  Just like Odysseus escaping the Lotus Eaters and defeating the Cyclops.  He was making progress – until that damn bag of wind ...

Defeating the Cyclops Seemed a Breeze!
 The Third Draft – After the second draft, I sent it to some friends to read.  I received a lot of good advice, but a lot of this advice involved making additions to the novel.  “Add more to the ending to make it more exciting.”  “Spend more time developing the characters’ backstory.”  “Gives us more scenes with the villains.”  So I tried to do this.  And here’s where I opened the bag of winds.  For those not up on their Odyssey, after Odysseus defeated the Cyclops, the Master of the Winds gives Odysseus a bag containing all but the West wind.  This allows him to sail all the way to Ithaca, where he can even see the shore.  But then some dumb-ass opens the bag of winds, blowing Odysseus way off course, which ultimately sends him and his crew to the witch-goddess Circe, where Odysseus’ crew gets turned into pigs and ends up stuck on her island for a year.  And that basically sums up my third draft.  All the additions ballooned the novel’s length to 144,000 words.  The novel was much better in many places, but it was also fat.  Like Odysseus’ crew after Circe tried to turn them into bacon.

Curse that Bag of Wind!

The Fourth Draft – Here’s where I had to trim it down.  Big time.  It was excruciating.  I ended up rewriting the first 100 pages from scratch to front-load some conflict and introduce my antagonist earlier.  And I had to make some painful cuts.  I had reached the straights of Scylla and Charybdis, and whichever path I chose, a whole lot of story was going to die.  Though scathed, I came through it after killing a whole lot of my darlings.  The novel was 22,000 words shorter, and it was tighter. 

Scylla or Charybdis?
The Fifth Draft – After so much rewriting, the novel needed to be polished.  This was basically a line edit.  I shaved off some more words and did it in a fairly short amount of time.  It was like skirting the Sirens.  Just tie yourself to the mast and press on.

Tie Yourself to the Mast and Press On!
The Sixth Draft – This is hopefully the final edit.  I’m trying to shave another thousand or so words from the story and fix any leftovers from Draft 4 that still need some fine tuning.  I feel like I can see the shores of Scheria, which means Ithaca can’t be far behind.

Ithaca Looks Close!
Of course, after this, the journey continues towards publication.  Back on Ithaca, all Odysseus had to do was shoot an arrow through the handle holes of a dozen axes.  Easy, right?

1 comment:

Richard Campbell said...

Time to move on to your second book; it sounds like you may have caught Perpetual Rewrite Syndrome.