First some basic stats on THE EMERALD TABLET:
Time to write first draft – 3 months
Length of first draft - 113K
Length of published novel – 66K
Time from first word written until publication – 4 years
First line of first draft – The night was bright, lit by a waxing gibbous moon.
(Okay, it pains me to put that down. And it came from a prologue, no less, long since deleted from the story.)
First line of published novel - When Benjamin Holt saw his mom disappear into a pinprick of light, he shouldn’t have been surprised; his life was already weird.
So I’ve talked a little bit about the revision process for THE EMERALD TABLET before, but I thought I’d go into a bit more detail.
After my manuscript was complete (I’d been through it a few times, I’d added all I thought needed added), it weighed in at a hefty 113K. Why hefty you might ask. There are books being published with that word count and more. But for the case of THE EMERALD TABLET, the words were unneeded. I’ll summarize these unnecessary words in three line items:
- Incorrect Starting point
- Far too many things “personal” to me
When I started the planning of the novel and the trilogy overall, everyone had a birthday and everyone had a family and there were friends of the family. And being a telegen in the real world, Benjamin had played many pranks in the past. And there was the prologue which dealt mainly with Benjamin’s birth. And you know what? I needed to know all these things. But the reader didn’t. And so I went through the manuscript many, many times, cutting everything I could possibly cut in regards to backstory. Benjamin’s best friend’s mother’s occupation was just not pertinent. Neither was the girl next door who had a crush on Benjamin.
My advice: Cut all the backstory you possibly can. Ask yourself – does the reader really need to know this? If not, cut it.
Incorrect Starting Point:
Let’s see, first there was the prologue (as mentioned above), but then the story started one sunny afternoon with Benjamin and Andy playing a prank as they so often did on sunny afternoons. And after the prank, we needed a chapter showing us a little more of Benjamin’s talents. And then we needed to see the last day of school. And once Benjamin found out he was going to summer school, he needed to go shopping, because, you know, all boys are really excited about going shopping. And then he was off to summer school and the story got going. So yeah, in revisions, guess where the story ended up starting?
A couple fun comparisons:
Benjamin finds out he’s going to summer school – first draft – page 54
Benjamin finds out he’s going to summer school – final - page 2
Benjamin actually goes to summer school – first draft – page 74
Benjamin actually goes to summer school – final - page 13
Benjamin finds the Emerald Tablet – first draft – page 208
Benjamin finds the Emerald Tablet – final - page 54
My advice: Really think about the right starting point for your novel. Where does the action start? What drives the story forward. Find out and start there.
Far too many things “personal” to me:
I’ve heard it said that a first novel written is too close to the author. When we write, we want to put in all those things that are special to us. We want to write in the funny jokes we heard cracked in middle school. We want to portray our nemeses in all their rotten glory down to the dumb jean jackets they always wore.
We get our novel critiqued and someone says they love a certain line. And so we hold onto that line forever. And ever. We never want to cut it.
Here’s the truth: Things that are funny in your memory will not necessarily be funny to others. They also may not fit in this particular story. But the good news is you have plenty of stories ahead of you. You will be able to use those jokes somewhere else. You will be able to set a scene at your favorite ice cream shop in a different novel. Benjamin Holt had no need to visit Scoops Ice Cream and play his favorite retro game Moonquest. Maybe you did, but give your character a break. Don’t give him too much retro baggage that you loved.
My advice: If you are hesitant about cutting something, ask yourself the honesty question. Honestly, why are you holding onto a certain line? Does it add to the story or is it because it is a line that you love? Kill your darlings, right? Yes, kill them. Away. You seriously will never miss them.
(Just for fun, THE EMERALD TABLET in its beauteous first draft had bonsai trees, Aikido, crabapple flinging, and popcorn popping as gradable homework.)
PJ Hoover can laugh about her revisions now. And she thought her first draft was perfect :)
(Originally posted 12/1/09)