Really Interesting

HH wanted a Miss Marple fix, so we watched Julia McKenzie in A Caribbean Mystery. We’ve seen it before but long enough ago that HH forgot most of the plot, so he wanted to see it again. The thing is, it WAS the same show, but a different edit. This was a longer version with scenes we’d never watched. And since I DID remember the shorter version, and I think the short version was better, it made me think about what we keep and what we don’t when we write. Both the short and the long were good, but the extra scenes changed the flow of the show and even the emphasis of the story once in a while.

Quite a few of my friends tend to be pantsers who write “long,” so that when they finish a book, they have to go back to cut words and tangents to get their books down to a manageable size. I’m a bare bones writer who has to ADD words when I polish to add descriptions and emotions, to round out and fill in what happened. I have to ask myself, What else do I need to make this scene come to life? Sometimes, I think of something but when I add it, it distracts from the main point I’m trying to achieve, and then I toss the addition out. But that’s rare.

Watching the longer Miss Marple made me think about what’s needed and what’s not. A few of the new scenes really added to the story. Some of them diluted it, watered the plot down with extraneous, useless material. Every writer knows that editing is a tricky thing. Yes, it involves fixing misspelled words and grammar. And there are always mistakes we didn’t see as we pounded out sentences and paragraphs. But editing is more than that. It’s trying to make each scene sing, each character come to life, each plot point sparkle. Balance is everything. Too much, too little can smudge the effect we’re trying for. It’s impossible to get everything right. But we do our best. And some writers’ best is plenty good enough.

Photo by Ron Lach on

Rewrites as you go: wrong? Not for me!

I just finished rewrites on the first fourth of my WIP. I’ve heard all of the advice: “Don’t edit as you go.” “Let the words and ideas flow.” “Write while you’re drunk; edit while you’re sober.” Those don’t work for me. They don’t work for Les Edgerton either, and here’s why: Les’s writing blog, in general, is worth checking out. It’s chockfull of good advice:

Now, I have a few writer friends who HAVE to take this advice, because they border on the perfectionist side. They could spend YEARS rewriting the beginnings of their books. I’m talking about you, Kathy Palm, among others. (Kathy has a great writers’ blog, too, that I highly recommend: And yes, she does believe in magic, but she’s also a fan of horror. One of her short stories is in the upcoming anthology Halloween Night: Trick or Treat– If you’re like Kathy, you have to MAKE yourself let go of your writing, or you could spend a lifetime perfecting one book. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).

I’m not a perfectionist. I have no such patience. AND, I strongly believe in rewrites when your story feels “off.” I’ve mentioned that I start each writing day reworking the pages I wrote the day before. One, that gets me back into the story. Two, after sleeping on my words, they don’t look as brilliant. I can add, tweak, clarify. I’m not sure I’d take the time to look at those pages so closely when I work through the entire manuscript. (I did say I’m not patient. Now maybe you’ll believe me).

The thing is, when your story’s “off,” you know it. You know something’s not working. Your gut sends a memo to your brain, and even if you try to ignore it, you can’t. You’d think that me–a plotter–could avoid this problem. Yes, I know my characters. Yes, I know nearly every single plot point. Does that guarantee I’ll get it right? Hell, no. It just means the basics will work–period. I plugged through 78 pages on my new novel, and I knew everything was in place, but did it work? Not for me. Something was missing.

Guess what? It’s hard to plot for emotional impact, for depth, for internal turmoil. Those come from your characters, not your brilliant planning. And those are the REAL things that drive a story. Plotting just keeps you on track. Your characters have to bring every single one of those plot points to life–and that means, your characters have to live and breathe and worry and cuss and drink a beer and eat a slice of torte when they want to lose weight, then be angry at themselves for succumbing to empty calories. Plotting won’t bring your characters to life. Only you, the writer, can make them real. But plotting can make them move from point A to point Z with few or no pages you have to pitch. It makes sure they start their journey from New York and end up in Indiana, where they belong. (Indiana’s my home state, and it gets bashed enough, so I’m defending it).

When I read through my first 78 pages, I realized I was hitting every plot point, but I hadn’t included enough of the characters’ motivations, hang-ups, and feelings. I knew how Paula (the protagonist) would react to what was going on around her. But she wasn’t hitting the right emotional notes. And that’s important. Emotional notes are what bring the character to life, what steers them through the story. I’ll follow a character I love through a mediocre novel, but I won’t follow a character I don’t care about through a brilliant novel. Something to consider. I can go back in my next set of rewrites to fill in more depth, more details IF I get the motivations right the first time around, but if they’re off? I’m in trouble, and my gut knows it. If I force it and keep writing ahead, I’d be going in the wrong direction. My scenes would focus on the wrong things. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can forge ahead, knowing I’m on the right path.

Here’s one more good writers’ link for you to consider: Readers view the world you’ve created through your characters’ eyes, mostly your protagonist’s. We often react the way the protagonist reacts. If the protagonist isn’t worried, happy..something, neither are we. We read to FEEL, to live through someone else for a brief period of time. Make your characters stir us.

P.S. I put a snippet from Voodoo and Panthers on my webpage, if you’re interested:

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