Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Tangled Mess of a Story

It was 10:40 on Tuesday morning. In a rush to get to work, I grabbed my comb and ran it through my hair, from the roots down. I don't have time to comb from the ends up, I told myself. Well, as the saying goes, "If you don't have time to do something right the first time, when will you find the time to fix it?" I spent more time working the snarls out of my hair than I would have if I'd just been patient and done the job right.

Editing is much the same. Last week I was stuck in the middle of Chapter Eleven with no sign I'd ever finish. I desperately wanted to skip ahead to Chapter Twelve, just to feel like I'd accomplished something. When you're writing your first draft, this is acceptable. You can jump around as much as you want in the story--the main point is just to get the story down.

However, revision is when you're supposed to be working tangles out of your story. If you put your comb in the wrong spot and just rip your way through the story, you will only create problems for yourself. When editing Chapter Fifteen, you may decide your main character really loves peanut butter sandwiches. That reference back in Chapter Ten to never eating anything but turkey sandwiches? Oh... right. I missed that.

Revision is also when we smooth out relationships. Does their romance progress too quickly? Too slowly? Should I add tension here, or an additional scene there? If you're skipping around, you miss the big picture.

Chapter Eleven happens to be the Netherfield Ball. It required a lot of editing, because this is the moment when Darcy finally realizes he loves Elizabeth. I had to strike the right balance between being hopelessly in love and yet absolutely unwilling to consider a relationship with her. I could have skipped ahead to Chapter Twelve, but I would only have created a mass of tangles to work out later.

I was euphoric when I finished the purple draft of Chapter Eleven. Not only was I done, I knew I'd done the job right.