Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Good, The Bad, and The Facelift


I feel as though I've crawled out of a very deep hole.  I'm blinking my eyes in the sunshine, wondering where the last ten days went.

The answer is, they went into my computer in the form of words.  I did win NaNoWriMo, which is to say I wrote more than 50,000 words of a new novel.  I'm not "done," though -- I wrote 40,000 words to the approximate middle of the book, then skipped to the end.  I was so desperate to get it done, at least by NaNo standards, that I raced through an awesome last chapter (well, the book will still need an epilogue, but the nominal last chapter is killer), looked down and saw my word count (as per Word) was 49,999.  So I typed "The End" and hit save.  (Actually, NaNo's validator gave me a few hundred extra, so as far as NaNo is concerned, I got up to 50,338.)

Believe it or not, this is Pennsylvania, not so very far from where we live.                      

My NaNo book is -- yes, I'm going to say it -- strong.  The characters are fresh and interesting, their motivations clear (to me, at least) and they have a good time with each other long before they have their black moment and subsequent HEA.  Even without six months of revisions -- which it will get -- it's got a lot of the things I know it should have.  It's "hooky," meaning it starts with a bang.  It's fast-paced.  And it's fun.  (Also, according to my husband, funny.  I don't know about you, but I have no idea if I'm writing anything funny until I hear someone laugh.)

My NaNo book, Blackjack and Moonlight, is The Good.

A book I started 18 months ago, The Cost of Happiness, is The Bad.  Oh, not irretrievably bad.  But I know when I go to look at it, I won't be able to save much, if any, of what I wrote back then.  So I'll start from scratch.  In fact, I've thought of a very hooky opening that helps with a lot of the problems I know that manuscript must have.

Luckily, I had written less than half of The Cost of Happiness before putting it aside and starting Love in Reality for last year's NaNoWriMo.  Love in Reality -- and boy, is that an ironic title under the circumstances -- is the first in a four-book series of interrelated stories.  Here's the "family tree," if you will:

  1.  In Love and Reality,
  • Libby Pembroke and Rand Jennings fall in love.  
  • Libby's uncle, Jack McIntyre, shows up in Chapter One, 
  • As does her twin sister, Lissa, 
  • A law school classmate, Meghan Whalen, shows up in Chapter 4
  • And Rand's college roommate, Phil Gaffney, shows up near the end.
  2.  In The Cost of Happiness,
  • Meghan Whalen falls in love with Dan Howard,
  • And Dan used to work with Jack McIntyre, who has something important to do near the ending
  3.  In Blackjack and Moonlight,
  • Jack McIntyre falls in love with Elise Carroll,
  • Libby graduates from law school
  • Libby and Rand get married 
  • Phil is Rand's best man
  • Lissa is her sister's maid-of-honor
  • We suspect Phil has feelings for Lissa
  4.  In Book Four (tentatively titled Lost and Found),
  • Phil Gaffney and Lissa Pembroke fall in love

I've also got some ideas about Elise's friend, Christina, who works at the same law firm as Dan Howard.  Libby & Meghan's law school may support a romance down the road, and Rand may make a documentary film that triggers a romance.

D'you see how it might be nice if I can rescue Love in Reality?  Not vital, I suppose -- Blackjack and Moonlight will be a fine book whether anyone knows how Jack's niece got her guy -- but Love in Reality is square one for a lot of books.

Love in Reality was The Ugly book.  Flabby writing, features that didn't fit in a harmonious or elegant fashion, and more than a little of that "only a mother could love this" quality.  But worth the effort of trying to tighten it up.  So I gave it a facelift.  I rewrote large chunks of the first 5 chapters, including the opening.  I switched the point of view in certain scenes.  I made my characters less blah.  And I tightened the writing throughout the book.

It's a bit like Frankenstein's Monster -- did I do enough?  Are the scars too glaring?  Can people stop staring at those pegs sticking out of its neck?  (In case you're wondering, here's the most obvious and unavoidable problem that Love in Reality has:  twin sisters with the easily confusing names Libby and Lissa.  For plot reasons, that's just gotta be there.  And maybe readers will hate that.  I can predict now that agents and editors will hate it.  But just as Boris Karloff had disconcerting pegs sticking out of his neck, I've got two sisters with nearly interchangeable names.  His performance survived the pegs -- we'll see if Love in Reality can survive the Ls.)

I expect I'll find out in a few months if the facelift was a success.  I've submitted Love in Reality for the Golden Heart contest for best unpublished manuscript.  Is it perfect?  Most definitely not.  Is it dramatically improved from how it had been, just two months ago?  I think so.

But here are the two things I know for sure:  First, I have never worked so hard on anything, academically or professionally, in my life.  Which sounds boastful but is actually a very shameful admission, if you think about it.  (And if any of my former clients is reading this, yours was the case I worked super hard on.  Of course it was.)

Second, I know I've improved as a writer.  Not just because the 50,001 words I wrote for NaNoWriMo this year are vastly superior words arranged more attractively than the 36,012 words I wrote back in the summer of 2009.  The real way I can tell I've improved is that as I was trying to carve a leaner, more attractive book for my Golden Heart entry, I became more aware of what worked and what didn't.  I'm know I'm a better writer because I can see I've become a better reader.

Let's just hope I'm a decent plastic surgeon...!


  1. Just think how many real-life parents give twins confusingly similar names! Libby and Lissa aren't bad, to my ear--the end sounds are very different.

  2. Hi

    Next door neighbor's twin girls were Amanda and Abigail--Abigail was known as Abby, but Amanda was NOT known as Amy--so we missed the Abby-Amy conflict. Which is very close to Libby-Lissa. Don't worry about it now.
    But your books sound too cool! I sure hope your contest submission fares well.
    And, as a reader, I applaud your self-knowledge of your writing strengths and weaknesses. As I am sure you are aware (as a reader), not all writers reach that point!

  3. Elizabeth -- I picture the twins' parents as basically smart people, so they named their daughters Elizabeth Ann and Alice Deanna. Not even the same initial. But the twins' baby talk versions of each other's name (Libby for Elizabeth and Lissa for Alice) stuck.

    I know that part is plausible: my mother was Josephine but was called Jofine because of someone's inability to say the longer name. And she called her sister (Magdalen, as it happens) Bebe (like BB) because it was easier than "baby."

    Thanks for thinking the two L-names are different enough to keep from killing the book!

    Barbara -- Thanks for the vote of confidence. As agonizing as it was to make all those revisions to Love in Reality, it was the best possible education in how to read my own work.


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