Monday, October 16, 2006

Firsts and Lasts

Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. ~ Author Unknown

Voting has started for the American Title III contest... I voted yesterday for "best first line". I have to be honest, I found myself agreeing most with Flavia, and it really made me think about first lines. Again.

I agonize about them. I hate the first lines for pretty much ALL of my completed novels. Hate. Them. But I move on because I want to finish and then I can go back and agonize some more. So I struggle through the first draft, knowing that I have a substandard beginning.

I read a book, not too long ago that shall remain nameless, where I loved, Loved, LOVED the first line, paragraph and chapter. Woo! I was excited as all get out and ready for more rolicking fun.

Boy, was I disappointed. It was clear that the author had poured her heart and soul into the beginning and then glossed over the rest. I'm certainly no where near perfect -- in fact, I'm so far away from perfect that I'm not even on the same continent. But I know what good writing should look like (in my oh-so-humble opinion), even if I can't always get it to come from my fingertips.

So my question for you is this: how can you manage to put as much care into your entire novel as you do the first few "partial" chapters without taking five years to complete each novel?

I'm struggling through my second-and-a-half edit of Liv's story (turns out that I only made it about 2/3 of the way through on my first edit and it's really thrown a wrench in my plans to have it completed by October 31st... grrr....) and mainly focusing on getting the plot down correctly. I know I can add more details. I know I have some serious gerund overuse and undoubtedly a more-than-suggested amount of passive voice.

Here's another question for you -- how many times do you typically edit and what is your system?

And another -- when do you decide a book is done?


Charity said...

I need to edit in layers. I’ve tried so many different methods, but nothing sticks for me but doing it in layers. I worry about a select number of things per edit. If I have a phrasing brainstorm, sure, I put it in. But if I’m only worried about big plot issues on an edit, I don’t sweat the phrasing.

I’m on my fifth edit of GGG. I plan for at least one more before the Golden Heart. I calculate “done” in a couple of ways. The first time through with GGG, I was done because I didn’t know how to fix the book. So “done” meant sticking it in a drawer.

This time, “done” will mean I’ve taken the book as far as I can with my current level of craft. It will mean I will have no qualms about sending it out to agents/editors. It means that even if it tanks in the Golden Heart, I’ll still be proud of the work I’ve done on it this year.

anno said...

I start editing from the moment words appear on the page. It's hard for me to advance unless the rhythm of what I've done so far feels right. When it falters, so do I.

Sometimes I can "leap ahead" and write about something later in my piece, if I'm more inspired in that direction, but it's never easy.

One reason I'm trying NanNo is that it demands a different approach than my own traditional and stodgy process. Also, I have so many neuroses about writing fiction that the only way for it to work is if I dive in and begin thrashing; if I think about it too much, it will never happen. Plus, I think it will be fun to be in the middle of all this mayhem with so many other people.

Allie Boniface said...

Because I'm a sort of list-and-organization person, I set a timeline for myself when I begin a new work. I actually have a monthly calendar by my computer with a rough sketch of when I want to finish the outline, first chapter, second chapter, etc. I find that this keeps me moving forward, otherwise I know I would spend way too much time fixing the opening pages. It takes me anywhere from 3-5 months to write the first draft of a novel (I've done 4, so I have a pretty good idea of my production by now). Then I give myself at least 2 weeks to let it sit without looking at it (Stephen King recommends 4, but I can't wait that long). I do another calendar schedule, marking when I want to have revised such-and-such chapters. I usually revise a novel at least 3 times. Then I find that I have to move on to another project, whether the other one is waiting at agents (like now...grr...) or just been turned down everywhere and needs to be obviously reworked but I'm not sure how.

I imagine that all sounds pretty obsessive, but it works for me, because I like the satisfaction of completing a work, from start to finish. I also have learned much more about the entire process from writing a 90K word novel than, I would imagine, from getting halfway through 2 or 3.

Oh, but in answer to your final question: I don't think a work is ever truly "done."