Sunday, March 8, 2009

Another rewrite? Must I?

I didn't think that my agent's "I think this could use some work" comment would lead to quite as many changes to the manuscript as I now see it's going to. I've got my work cut out for me, especially if I want to complete the changes by the end of May, which is the provisional deadline Mr. Agent and I agreed upon.

What I'll be doing is essentially deepening all the characters' emotions, and thereby hopefully deepening the reader's connection to all the characters, especially the narrator/protagonist. Mr. Agent's main criticism of the book (which was shared by the reader he had look at it), is that we never really connect to the narrator. I can see why that is: when I first wrote it, the narrator was just that: a witness to events, and a dispassionate one at that. Sort of an ironic observer to a tragedy. When I did the first major revision, I realized that the narrator is also the protagonist, but that distant, ironic voice remained, so it's not as easy to care about the narrator as it should be. So my job is to make Horatio (the narrator/protagonist) come alive for the reader, to open the door to his emotions, and to give the reader more of all the other characters while I'm at it. Which is, you know, going to be a bit of a bitch and I'm only just now beginning to get ideas for how this will be accomplished. Sadly, a lot of the first few chapters will have to be rewritten, and I'm going to have to simply cut some good stuff and write new material to replace it all. Three months is sounding like not much time at all.

But, because I'm nothing if not obsessive, I've been thinking about almost nothing but the story since Thursday night, and I've begun to have what I think are Really Good Ideas. This revision will likely be the hardest of all the rewrites, but I am convinced that the book will be a lot better after I've made the changes. I am simultaneously dreading the sheer volume of work and excited about the ideas I have for new scenes and additional material. I expect to be exhausted at the end of May.

8 comments:

  1. I thought the work ended when Agent X said "sure, friend" and took you on a magic carpet ride.

    I think my protagonist has a similar problem. The readers don't get in his head and heart enough.

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  2. Yeah, I was expecting he'd want changes, but nothing quite so extensive. My first thoughts about this during our meeting were, "You have got to be fucking kidding me. Do you have any idea how much work that's going to be?" Now I think he's right and the book will only be better when I'm done. Still, it's daunting. I've made lots of notes and have ideas for new scenes and the book will gain an emotional clarity it currently lacks, but I am not quite ready to actually touch the manuscript. Tonight, though, I'm going to do some damage to the first chapter and see how I feel about it. Yeesh. Where's my damned magic carpet ride?

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  3. Yeah, sounds like a tall order, but you can do it. It's especially doable because you agree the novel will turn out better after you implement the changes. Even if Agent Whoever drops you (obviously we hope otherwise), you'll still have a salable piece of work.

    By the way, how did he word "protagonist needs more depth"?

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  4. Justus,

    I can't remember his exact words, but it was along the lines of "Who is this guy? I just don't connect with him as much as I want to." He gave the ms to a reader who had the same comment, that I just didn't give enough of the protagonist's inner life to the reader. Which is true: I deliberately made him sort of emotionally distant, and he only explicitly tells what he thinks in three scenes. You see him act, you see him observe, but you don't get inside his head much.

    Another comment was that, although all the characters (even the minor ones) are unique individuals, "...you've brought all the characters to the same level, but now you have to take them farther." Again, Mr. Agent would like to see more of their emotional worlds. Which is all stuff I can do, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that the changes aren't going to just be thinks I tack onto the surface of the novel. I'm going to have to do a lot of writing, some cutting, some changing of things, and the book will likely be 10-20,000 words longer when I'm done. When, I wonder, will I sleep?

    The book is a skewed retelling of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," with loads of additional scenes and lots of changes to plot and character. I thought my agent was going to say that the dialog was too Shakespearean, or that the plot didn't live up to the premise. But no, he wants deep stuff, damn him.

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  5. He could have kept it simple and said, "Scott, add 'thee' to every paragraph." Curse his skill as an agent!

    Any advice your agent gives you, I'm going to take into account when reading my own manuscript. Some advice won't fit, but I'm sure some will.

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  6. And this is why I'm not in too big of a hurry to get an agent. I barely have enough time as it is! Entering into the agent/publishing world scares the socks off me.

    I wish you luck, Scott! From the little I know about you, you seem like a very talented and capable writer. I have no doubt you'll come out of this with something amazing!

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  7. Scott,
    For the artist side, this sounds like a wonderful undertaking. I know the deadline can be daunting, but that may help to create some exciting things too. I don't know how you work, but sometimes deadlines really help my imagination. In your case, reading Hamlet again might trigger some things now that you would be viewing it in a different light, with a specific question in mind: What is Horatio feeling? Shakespeare is so amazingly good at recording the emotional continuum of the characters. Even if your story is skewed, it might give you some insight.

    I think this is such as exciting time. SAVE YOUR EARLIER DRAFTS! :)

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  8. Lady Glamis,

    Thank you for the luck! From what little I've seen of your prose, you're talented and you care about the craft. I have no doubt that you'll be sharing in these very worries soon enough. I don't know if my book will be amazing; I just want it to be a book I'd want to read. That's as close as I dare come to hope.

    Davin,

    I work best under deadline. If I hadn't given myself a hard deadline for finishing the first draft, I might still be poking away at it in desultory fashion.

    Trust me, I've pretty well got Mr. Shakespeare's version of the story memorized by now. I think that what I'm looking for is not to be found in the play, though. I have to look elsewhere, like within (hackneyed as that saying is, the emotional lives of the characters are in my head, not in Shakespeare's beautiful prose).

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