Premature Editing

I seem to have a problem. As I have been writing the first draft, I have been feeling less than satisfied with the work that I have done so far. I showed the first couple thousand words to my writer’s group, and they agreed that it isn’t working. So the dilemma is, should I start rewriting it now, before it gets worse, or push on until I finish my first draft?

Most writers will tell you that doing major edits before you finish the first draft is a good way to make sure you NEVER finish the first draft. Most of the time, I would agree. But my writing group has pointed out a couple of big problems with the start of my book, and I am wondering if the edits needed for my story would be a good exception to that rule. So I’m thinking about holding off on further work until I redo the opening.

Here’s the scoop for the first problem: I wrote a short prologue, which described how a comet smashed into an alien planet, knocking a piece loose, which then traveled through space until it came to Earth, where it started irradiating the food in a remote cabin. My group felt that the perspective was confusing, as I first described the comet, then told how it smashed into the planet, then described the rock breaking loose and drifting through space, and finally how the rock landed next to the cabin.

While I was writing it, I thought it was a nice little cycle, showing first one cosmic collision, and then another. I wanted to be clear how a piece of another world was the cause of the super powers that I was going to give the kids. My writing group understood that part, but they thought that the backstory of the rock was probably a bit too much. They suggested I focus solely on the rock and forget about how it was set in motion by a comet hitting its home planet. I think they might be right, and I don’t really need the prologue at all, so I’ll have to think about what I’m going to do about this.

This is something that doesn’t NEED to be rewritten right now.

The second problem is this: I’m writing the book in third person, but I thought that it would be nice to go deep into the characters as I wrote the opening, telling the story from each of their perspectives in turn. I thought that would be a good way to get into their heads, and while technically it was still third person, it was practically the same as being in first person, with the exception of the pronouns.

That was a mistake. I opened from the point of view of one of the boys, and the whole scene was about him. None of the other characters were introduced at all. In short, the entire scene could probably be cut.

Another problem with that scene is that the boy in question is supposed to be aggressive, with serious anger management issues, and while I alluded to that somewhat in his scene, the next scene where he interacted with the second boy made him seem more of a nice, friendly boy, with none of the aggression that I wanted him to have. The story would be more interesting if there was some kind of conflict, like perhaps between the two boys. The problem with making them enemies is that eventually they need to work past their differences and work together as a team. And that might be a bit too much conflict for the kind of book I want to write.

So here’s the scoop. I really think I need to rewrite the first chapter. I can change to a true third person perspective and drop the individual character viewpoints. I can add more conflict, either between the boys, or another option is to have the angry boy defend the other boy for some reason. That would insert some conflict while also giving them a reason to be friends. And I want the first day at camp to end with the four main characters starting to build a friendship that will solidify into a team later on.

This is something that I think really HAS to be done. If I don’t, the personalities of the kids and their relationships won’t be adequately defined for the later scenes. And that would just mean more problems that would have to be edited later.

What do you think? Is this something that I should allow myself to do? Or should I push on and try to keep the future editing choices in the back of my head as I finish my first draft? Please leave me a comment with your thoughts.

I’ll heading north for a short vacation in Door County for the next couple of days, which means I probably won’t get much writing done for the rest of the week. However, I will be checking out some of the sites I used in my last novel, taking lots of pictures and getting a personal look at the places I wrote about. I’m hoping that will help me when I start rewriting that book later on.

See you on Sunday!

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3 Comments

Filed under ROW80, The Writing Experience

3 responses to “Premature Editing

  1. I’m likely the wrong one to ask, but I tend to edit the first draft as I go. Don’t go crazy with nitpicky research details, grammar, and “tightening” it that first go-around, but I think it’s okay to edit recent new pages before moving onto the new words for the day. My suggestion would be to have an outline or synopsis before you begin writing, which will curtail some of the plot issues you can run into by pantsing it. Hang in there! You’ll finish. 🙂

    • I actually do have an outline, but somehow when I started writing all the character prep I had done went out the window. I know how I want the character to act, but the first go-round didn’t turn out that way. I need to go back to the beginning and beat that boy into the path I want him to take.

  2. I think you should definitely follow your instincts here. I am in revision hell on my first completed draft of a novel, and I started it during NaNoWriMo, where I just pushed through the whole beginning and usually didn’t stop to replan. Later I didn’t do that and if I felt a scene just wasn’t working, I stopped and figured out WHY. Now I VERY much prefer the second method and am struggling so hard to revise the early scenes because I have to hold just so much in my head to make a decision. To slightly tweak a character I have to think about every scene they are in and if it will be affected in the way that I want it to be.

    I think you have a great example here because the first thing seems like a great thing not to really revise, or you wouldn’t especially need to, because the facts stay the same, just the presentation is changing. But you HAVE to know the history between these two characters, and have a good image of them in your mind. This is where their relationship is defined and your plot begins; if it feels totally wrong to you, it probably is and you’ll just waste time later. Facts and key details to the characters’ relationships and the plot seem like important things not to wait for a second draft to revise, because every other scene will be built on them, and you’ll end up scrapping tons, some of which you might even like and that will hurt.

    Of course, maybe you won’t have this problem, everyone is different, but in my limited experience this is the advice that comes to mind, hope it’s helpful.

    I don’t know your characters or your plot, but I think there are plenty of stories where young people start of as somewhat “enemies” and later need to overcome their differences to work together. Those can be fun to read. If this is the kind of arc you want to have, you definitely need to figure out the exact nature of their conflict and also how they will later overcome it so you can foreshadow it now. Maybe you don’t know the exact details, but I would want to know generally. So something I think I often see in movies is that the conflict is based on a misunderstanding, and in a bit of dramatic irony, the audience knows both stories, but each kid is missing some important fact that makes them seem at odds with each other. Later when they find out the truth, things can be forgiven easily. Perhaps something like that? From what you’ve said, it seems like conflict makes sense in that scene… But really at the opening, you want to focus on starting to introduce the struggle the characters will be facing as the heart of the book. I would avoid introducing conflict for conflict’s sake, and if your gut is telling you conflict is wrong in that scene, maybe it is.

    Well I have written entirely too much but hopefully that is helpful–and my comment isn’t lost when I hit submit!

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