I’ve just waded into a long, waist-deep stream of revisions to my YA novel, The Red Flood. After some lackluster feedback from agents and a thorough critique by my friend Alison, I decided to pull it and bring it back to the workbench.
The Red Flood is about two young women, on the run from a paramilitary group, trying to survive on a hostile planet. Things become more complicated when they discover the group that caused the environmental catastrophe on their world — and a way to save what’s left.
Revisions are the most boring part of the writing process. Brainstorming is sketching in pencil; writing the first draft, painting. Revisioning is taking paint thinner to the canvas, wiping away areas to change, leaving what can be salvaged or touched up, then painting over it again. It’s careful work, and the results aren’t exciting.
It’s also my favorite part of it all. At my day job as a web programmer, I often have to refactor code that was written two, five, ten years ago, forcing it to work the way you want. I’m a fixer at heart, and fixing narrative is no different.
My focus is split between several goals for this pass:
1) Increase narrative tension and drive. My longer works read too much like road trips, episodic and unconnected. Giving the characters clear goals, with incidents and actions that have clear consequences, can solve this. I’ll also be improving the overall pacing of the book.
2) Resolve and clarify motives. One character, a sociopath military leader, lacks the charisma of historical analogues such as Che Guevara that led to their fanatical behavior. Why should those under her command follow her, when the alternative — leaving — demands less of them? That’s the hardest part to work out, as I’ll be essentially rediscovering her character.
3) Find my characters’ voices. It’s easier for me to write unique voices in modern-day scenarios than in more fantastical ones. There isn’t enough distinction between how my characters sound, so I’ll be adding vocal cues, such as vocabulary and sentence construction, to make them sound different.
I expect to finish by the end of summer, but realistically I’ll go as long as it takes. Like brainstorming, revisions can’t be rushed. I’ll pop in on occasion with updates.