“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
— Stephen King
So, I hit 64,000 words in my WIP this morning, which means I’m roughly two-thirds of the way through the second draft (me thinks). This manuscript is teaching me a lot about myself as a writer. The meetings I’ve attended of Virginia Romance Writers have given me some insights not only into the genre, but also in writing in general. I’m making progress, exercising my writing muscles, which is always exciting.
So what am I learning as I go? Well, my strengths and weaknesses, for one thing. My strengths (I think): Description. Dialogue. And, most of all, character development, which connects to my greatness weakness. Action. I sometimes get stuck in someone’s head; sometimes, as crit partner Kathleen Foucart once put it, “The world is about to end, and they’re sitting around talking about it.” (paraphrase) She was right, too. (She usually is.) My plot had gotten stuck and was spinning its wheels in “Let’s just think this through,” Land, a place where stories go when the writer doesn’t know where to go next. When no one goes anywhere, the tension starts to fade. How will the reader connect if we’re just sitting in the living room? We need the escalation of tension, whether it’s sexual chemistry between two characters, or a ticking bomb (figurative or literal), or someone’s increasing desperation because what he or she has longed for is slipping further and further away. Fortunately, my story has a solid foundation for some serious tension and action. I just sometimes have to chip away at those excess scenes to get where I’m going.
Now, how is that good news? Because once we identify our weaknesses, we can work on them. I’m not going to send this manuscript out into the world to agents or editors or whomever when it has obvious problems that I can spot and fix. If I see a scene that’s too heavy on the internal and not enough on the external tension, I can revise. I can hype up the tension. I can get things moving again. Sometimes I write a scene and realize that I wrote it just for me. Now I know what motivates this character. I know what’s in her closet, skeletons or stilettos. I know what she dreams about, what she’s thinking when she stares out the window. My reader might need to know some of these things. He or she might need to know about them sooner or later. When I revise, I can foreshadow, although sometimes the foreshadowing happens without me knowing. Such is the writing life—that our stories and our characters hold secrets even the author can’t detect.
And I look forward to revising this story. Some writers say they dread revision. But I actually enjoy this process, however frustrating it might be. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that I do a lot of editing already, though usually of others’ work, so I’m keeping those muscles in shape. I’m also editing this draft as I go, revising scenes before I send them off for critique, so hopefully my next round of revisions aren’t as extensive as this second draft, essentially a rewrite.
I am moving more slowly than I had hoped, but the story is getting there. I have faith in it. One day, I hope it will be a story that the world needs, a story to inspire people. I hope people connect with these characters and their trials. But crafting a polished, solid manuscript means taking it scene by scene with a careful eye. Yes, it’s getting a manuscript ready for the world that’s the trick.