01 March 2009

NaNoEdMo begins

The serious revision process has now started. After a month of writing notes in the margins, between the lines, on the back of pages, and in a battered notebook where the idea for this novel first germinated, I have started the “true” rewriting of Orphans of Fenris. I completed the first draft on November 31st, and now the second draft starts to form before my confused eyes.

I am doing this revision as part of National Novel Editing Month, a cousin of the larger National Novel Writing Month, under which I wrote the first version of Orphans of Fenris. NaNoEdMo is a far smaller operation than the drafting version of it, with a handful of participants, most of them working on their novels from NaNoWriMo—as am I. The goal: log fifty hours of revisions during March. As I explained in a post on Black Gate, I use a desktop stopwatch to keep track of my hours. I then log them into the NaNoEdMo site.

This novel presents an enormous editorial challenge for me. I feel pleased with the energy and concepts of the first draft, but it is definitely a disordered first draft. I wrote it based on an eight-page outline, a short outline for me. I didn’t do a massive chapter-by-chapter breakdown as I’ve done before, and wrote more on the fly. This means that, although I think my first draft has the core of the story I wanted to tell, it needs significant reorganization, re-focusing of its themes, changing the character relationships to reflect the different directions I started to go, and whole chapters re-written almost from scratch. Exciting and scary at the same time.

Take today, the first day…

It has so far gone extremely well. I’ve gotten almost two hours logged and I still have at least another hour left in me before I turn to other activities. But the actual writing has moved slowly, because for starters I am rewriting the first chapter in an entirely different perspective, using some pieces of writing from later in the book that relate to this event.

Originally, I planned out the first chapter (actually, “chapters”; a group of three documents presented to the reader as primary source material) to help move me fast into the writing of the novel. In a first draft, getting those first two thousands words onto the page presents one of the most arduous obstacles. I had these chapters sketched in my mind with vivid pencil strokes—I knew what they would look like. Therefore, when midnight on the 1st of November arrived and National Novel Writing Month started, I got off the block fast. Those opening chapters served an important purpose.

But upon re-reading the novel, they don’t work in terms of pace, story, and character. Too much blatant world data, no-tie in with our actual characters. So… out they go, and no regrets. They did their job. I decided to provide the same information in a more dramatic way featuring a main character who otherwise would not show up in the novel for another five chapters. I moved information from her first appearance, as well as some of the prose, to craft a new opening chapter that handles the world data in a less obvious way, and will get readers into the story and its emotional core faster.

So today has been a day of almost completely new material. However, since I’m revising, I can move at a more methodical pace—I know the raw ore is there, I don’t need to invent it anymore—and work on how the data flows, and flip back and forth in the book to see how elements can tie together in this new chapter. I keep tinkering with dialogue, swapping around paragraphs, etc. Everything you shouldn’t do in a first draft because it would stop you dead and you would never finish the damn thing.

Re-writing contains a great joy, but it’s fundamentally different than draft work. It’s equally stressful, but with a compositional, structural, and analytical stress, instead of the raw creative energy stress.

And now, back to finish the much much much better opening chapter of Orphans of Fenris.