Thursday, May 03, 2007

Getting it Wrong

After writing only a handful of pages last week (I misspoke; when I counted them, there were actually eight pages), I sat down Sunday night to reread what I had produced. Two scenes, and both were unadulterated sh*t.

Steve said, “They can’t be that bad. Let me see them.” He read them, handed them back, and manfully said, “Well, they are a little weak.”

“Weak? They’re unadulterated sh*t!”

Some writers, I know, have the ability to charge onward without reworking or even rereading what they’ve written. Not me. I feel as if I’m building a house on shaky foundations. I couldn’t continue writing until I fixed what was wrong with those two scenes.

For one full day I was paralyzed. You must remember, this is a book I haven’t touched since I submitted the proposal last November 1. All the standard fears raised their heads. Oh, God; what if I just can’t DO this? I retreated into an old Georgette Heyer book (I haven’t read GH in ten or fifteen years) and spent the day chuckling. On Tuesday, I took a deep breath and started rewriting.

So what was wrong with my two scenes? They were boring. Why were they boring? Well, the first scene introduces a character named Jules Calhoun, Sebastian’s valet. Those who read the series know that Sebastian has valet problems, due largely to his habit of sometimes dressing like a beggar and at other times having his expensive coats and waistcoats ruined by would-be assassins. Calhoun arrives at the end of WHY MERMAIDS SING. He’s a colorful character (his mother runs the most notorious flash house in London), and just what Sebastian needs. So what is he doing when we’re introduced to him in this book? Sewing a button on a shirt.

I know, I know. Where was my head? Not only is the scene hopelessly static, but it gives us no sense of Calhoun’s character at all. I also realized that, despite the fact that this is the first time (in this book) we see Sebastian’s house and meet his household, I provided no description of his house or his household or why he lives the way he does. All that is now integrated into the new scene, which includes the major-domo’s hostility to Calhoun (for conflict), and introduces Calhoun in the midst of concocting his secret boot polish in the kitchen and carrying on a light flirtation with Sebastian’s French cook. The scene is so much better. Last week’s scene was written by an incompetent idiot. This week’s scene isn’t the best I’ve ever produced, but it more than holds its own weight.

In the next scene, Sebastian visits a brothel. How can a visit to a brothel be boring? It was a tough feat, but I pulled it off. How? I left out virtually all description. There was no description of the neighborhood or even an awareness of the time of day. The girls were described but not their clothes. The house itself was described, but badly. It was like a cake without frosting. Now it’s iced and decorated, and it is much, much better. I was able then to move smoothly into writing the next scene, where Sebastian tangles with the brothel’s bouncer. I now have 14 pages (counting the reworked scenes, not counting the 38 pages written last fall for the proposal). Not a great total, but I’m back in the story, and it’s flowing.

It’s funny that after all these years I can still get it so horribly, horribly wrong. I guess what the years have taught me is how to recognize when it’s going wrong, how to understand why it’s going wrong, and how to fix it.


Steve Malley said...

Neat insight into your creative process. Personally, I think you're right: wrong turns and wrong weeks are all part of the process, it's recognizing and correcting them that we get better at....

Oh, and it's Brizzy I'm off to. Rollercoasters and surf beaches and so forth!

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read quite a few manuscripts by newer writers who have no idea what is wrong, or how to fix it. That's where the pro gets going, as you just showed us.

Kate S said...

Well, good thing is that you noticed it, could see what was wrong and could then fix it. It didn't slip by you and a sloppy editor unnoticed and go straight to print. :)

liz fenwick said...

It's comforting to know that even the pros have bad days. What's really interesting is to see how you turned it around. Thanks:-)