Digging through old files I came across something written a good while ago, back when I was in the process of editing The Hive (for my compulsory Halloween release that I forced upon myself for some reason). Reading it took me back to the writing, remembering how it was a 75% complete screenplay idea that I decided to rewrite as a novel. And it made me realise how much work I gave myself by not really plotting things out beforehand and how much more I do that when writing now. It also showed me how much was added to it as I was writing, little ideas hinting at the larger world that was planned, subtle links between stories et cetera. I’ve highlighted what I believe to be the TL;DR. Here it is below, lost in the confusion of self-imposed deadlines:
‘I’ve written to completion quite a bit now, the only difference being that all of my previous work has been film scripts. I have nine separate unrelated stories in a selection of different genres. The first full-length script I wrote was horror-slasher type movie set in a hotel, probably terrible but great exercise to get my bearing with the awkward way I found scripts to be formatted. I think I had a scrappy piece of paper with the scenes written one after another and then a bit crossed out and arrows drawn all over it, so I had a fairly good idea what was going to happen in this hotel of horrors before I began writing it properly. I blitzed through thirty pages in that first day, not a huge amount but a good third of the story put down. I can’t recall how long it took to finish but I think I only did one rewrite and then decided to move onto something else. It was all it was ever going to be.
My favourite part of writing has to be that, this script I wrote ten years ago is still saved and if I should ever feel the need, it’s ready for me to come back to. It’s not going anywhere, no one has read it but me, a broken little treasure I can forever return to.
My next script was a nightmare. Designed form the beginning to be a low budget film, it was a thriller set in an abandoned warehouse where a bunch of hackers witness a murder and then are stalked as the killer comes for them. Perhaps twenty-five thousand words of character changes, plot holes, personality inconsistencies and other errors. I dreaded returning to it each day, talking to myself out loud as I tried to untangle the mess of threads. And it seemed to take forever.
So now, here I am working on the third pass of my most recent manuscript. And once again the changes seem so daunting, parts I know must be rewritten, deleted or replaced. But after ten years it’s slowly begun to dawn on me that rewriting isn’t as bad as I had always thought.
I try to write a thousand words a day, sometimes I manage a little more, sometimes less. Two thousand at the weekends. So I’m putting down around forty thousand words a month. My manuscript sits at just over eighty thousand words, so fair to say around sixty days of work. I put it away for as long as possible and write some other bits before coming back to revise it and, oh no! That beginning is way too ambiguous, what’s even going on in the story? Cue the first rewrite. And you dive into a lot of the work automatically, pulling your hair out as you remove chunks of text, edit dialogue etc. I spent around two weeks on the second draft and now I’m wrapping up the third draft in ten days.
Comparing that to the sixty days spent writing it the first draft, my last rewrite at ten days doesn’t seem so bad at all. More complicated? Yes. As much fun as the first draft? No way. It’s more technical, you’re doing so many things at once. Is this character behaving truly? Is that word spelled correctly? How can Bob have the briefcase already when Jane hasn’t given it to him yet? Is it clear why Jane is giving Bob the deeds to her house?
Character development, spelling & grammar, plot holes and clarity. I’m probably missing something but already you’re on the lookout for so many different things that it can seem overwhelming. But once again, compare that time spent to the time getting the first draft down and it’s nothing. And when you keep persevering you do bein to see your story emerging in its clearest version. Slowly as you get more in tune with the core of the story all the fuzzy parts at the edges begin to fade away and hopefully, at the end of maybe five drafts the manuscript you hold in your handstands towering as an epic over the lumpy mess of that first draft. Some big changes, some small. Some hair pulling, some laughs.
What I’ve found is that correcting a wayward scene isn’t always a case of having to rewrite it in its entirety but just isolating it and locating the problem.
Which can just be a simple line of dialogue or even changing the location, which could only be a few sentences and there you go! Back on track. Sometimes it is a case of deleting a large chunk of prose, other times it is a case of rewriting a large section, and sometimes it is a case of adding a whole new piece into the text. But it will be considerably less time than you spent on the initial draft. Unless it isn’t, in which case there may be deep underlying problems. Because if you were to junk half of an eighty thousand word manuscript that’s still only maybe thirty days work to get it back into shape. And that’s in the very direst of situations. Here’s hoping draft number four only takes seven days!’
Oh, and to celebrate the ‘just over a year anniversary’ of The Hive I’ve permanently dropped its price to $2.99 and should have a short story set in the same universe out soon!