The eighth rewrite of my first novel was far from perfect, but I knew I was done. I’d either get some traction with a publisher or burn the thing in my man cave. Other authors talked of not getting published until their fourth or fifth book, if ever. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I enjoyed the rewriting process, and committed to making my first novel better. I added a few new characters, a mafia patriarch coming out of retirement, a stoner ski bum at a Wyoming grocery store. There was more of the dog. My brother Matt likes the dog. I like the dog too, but the story is pretty much the same as when it flew from my fingertips four years earlier. The plot and crucible I dropped the protagonist into were all intact. The original manuscript was one hundred and forty thousand words. The one Jolly Fish Press will print this August is a trim eighty four thousand. So what’s the difference besides brevity? Here are three things I learned during four years of rewrites that continue to shape my writing.
1) Staying true to viewpoint character. My good friend and fellow author, Daniel Coleman, taught me this. In my first draft I jumped between heads like a telepathic frog. One second I was narrating how much the horse enjoyed his oats. The next sentence the dog was barking at something. I’d end the paragraph with the protagonist pining over lost love. All of them were interesting (at least I thought so) but it led to confusion. When I reread the original manuscript it’s easy to think the dog eats the oats, the horse is barking and the animals are engaged.
2) Active vs. passive voice. My original manuscript read like Dan Rather’s evening news. This and that was. Things were or used to be. Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” As a writer, I think this applies to all seven parts of speech but especially the verb.
3) Showing dialogue. I thank Tim Keller and Chad VanZanten from my League of Utah Writers critique group for this. When an old cowboy ignores everyone but mutters “Mornin’” to the coffee pouring cute waitress, it shows his crankiness better than I could ever tell it. Most of the fifty thousand words that are no longer in my manuscript were about telling the reader what to think instead of trusting them.
As luck would have it, THE SAMARITAN’S PISTOL found a home with Jolly Fish Press and avoided the man cave’s fiery furnace. I hope your words find similar success. I’m curious. What has shaped your writing journey?