Friday, April 2, 2010

Dreaded Edit

"Character consists of what you do on the third or fourth tries."

- James Michener

As I mentioned in the post “Second Chances”, on Monday I virtually dusted off a manuscript from last year The Disappearances and began editing it. I initially wrote it last winter, polished the beginning enough to have an editor critique at the NESCBWI last spring, and forgot about it. In fact, by the time I attended the conference, I’d already written the rough draft of Aura. After the conference, I’d written the second and third manuscript for Aura (I know – I’m an idiot, even if a prolific one). By summer, I wrote about half of the fourth and final manuscript of the series. Since then, I’ve edited those manuscripts, queried Aura and Indigo in the Know, read about writing, set up peer critiques, and blogged. But I haven’t written anything new since the summer.

What to do next? As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have something I’m dying to write and am sure that I’d write it with the power of what I’ve learned behind it. But all of these manuscripts languish and I don’t know if that’s a good of bad thing. The Disappearances, in particular, has nagged me because I never gave it a chance. I wrote it during the climate of changing administrations at the time of the inauguration and now I don’t know if it’s too political.

When I attended the conference, I didn’t even know how to categorize it when I spoke with the editor. He liked the initial idea, but wanted me to go in a horror direction. That isn’t me. Because I wasn’t sure what to do with it, there it sat, unedited, but loved a little.

Sometimes it’s best to keep writing and forget about the old stuff. Mary Kole from said the same thing. And I recently read a post from a young prodigy who also has abandoned old manuscripts, looking at them as learning tools that helped her grow as a writer:

Now I’m trying to decide if it's something worth saving. This is the logline:

Sixteen-year-old Eve and her best friend Adam are the sole witnesses to a life-like fog that obliterates a Walmart, which launches them on a quest to save the world, and if that weren’t enough, when Eve finds out that Adam has a thing for her, her insistence that they remain friends means that she may lose him forever.

But the saving-the-world part is where it gets murkier. I don’t know if it’s compelling or hokey or what. The premise is that if we put politics aside, what would be best for the planet? If a being/God/Mother Nature weren’t happy with the state of our planet, what changes would she demand?

The teen stuff is easier. Adam likes Eve, but she likes Brad, until Brad turns out to be a creep. Adam stops being friends with Eve until he has to work with her because of the whole saving the world thing. The relationship part is solid. I think.

I’ve exorcised “was”. I’m showing, rather than telling. My sentences vary (Well, not in this paragraph). I think Eve has a distinct voice. My grammatical mistakes may even be at a minimum. I’ve edited the beginning a gazillion times in my days off. (I’m bad at math, so I don’t know if “gazillion” a real number, but numbers are infinite, then every word has to be a number. Right?)

Here’s the beginning. I’d LOVE if you’d give me feedback on the premise, beginning, title, or anything else.

Walmart was the first to disappear. It started off as an ordinary night, but the chain of events that began with one local Walmart was something I could never have made up - I’m not that good of a writer.

I sat with my knees folded on rickety olive recliner, with Adam sprawled at the foot of it. We were supposed to be finishing a boring book by reading alternating chapters and sharing them.

Adam stared out the window, when I snapped; “It’s not fair if I’m the only one reading. The report’s due tomorrow, remember?”

“Relax, Eve. We only have a few more pages to go and I’m sure whatever we turn in will be as good anyone else’s in the class.” He turned back to the window.

“You’re not even trying to finish!” I complained.

Adam got up and peered through the glass. “It’s so weird out there. Take a look.”

“What’s weird?” I asked as I joined him, but he didn’t have to answer. There was a fog wrapping itself around everything outside - houses, trees, cars, mailboxes. It was so thick; you’d believe that it would have substance if you touched it.

“Look up,” Adam said and I did. The sky was sprinkled with stars and a moon that shone like the sun. That wasn’t the sky you’d normally get on a foggy night.

“What is it?” I felt my skin prick in the warm room.

“Let’s find out.”

I didn’t complain about not completing the book or the report, because I knew something out of the ordinary was going on and that Adam wanted to be a part of it.


  1. I would read this. If you care enough, then revise. If not, set it aside until you do. Your opening line hooked me. Like the world, it's worth saving :)

  2. Thank you, Karen. I just posted this, walked my son his to piano lesson and began to freak out that I shared the beginning. Now that I see your comment, I feel a little better.

  3. Theresa you've definitely got something here. i agree with Karen -- i was pulled in with the first sentence. i'm not entirely sure what's happening, or why the book report is significant, or even if saving the world isn't too big a task -- but you've got the material for something that could be really great. i say explore it. see if you can find the voice you need to move it along.

    all my fingers are crossed for you! i really hope you find success with your manuscript :D

  4. Tahereh, thanks for the comment. I don't want to make the book report too important except that it was a tool for the dynamics between Adam and Eve, and it seems insignificant after what they later witness. I'll work on the voice some more.

  5. Hi

    Wa-hey!!! What a beginning - it's pricked my interest no end! You go straight into the action - I love your first sentence. There is a sense of immediacy - the fog a portent of things to come.

    I do have one tiny nitpick and this is only my personal, personal thing and I may be completely and utterly wrong.

    It's the Adam and Eve name. Gives the game away somewhat..!

    But that's just me!

    However thes beginning paras are spot on - brilliant!

    Take care

  6. I have always like your writing, Theresa. Seem like the write word can mean the difference between lightening and a lighting bug.
    I hear thunder.
    Go for it....

  7. I like this, Theresa. The beginning hook is great, and centering the initial drama around Walmart is fun, because it makes the book that much more real. You write well. I'd love to read more!

  8. Old Kitty, Adam and Eve is a bit obvious. I put it because Eve fights against the connotation. Thank you for all of your nice words. It means a lot to me.

    Barbra, I love your bug, lightning bug comparison. Thank for you compliments.

    Shelley, I'm glad the book came off real to you. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Interesting beginning. YA is not my normal thing but I have read a few stories in this genre. The intro is definitely intriguing. I'll bring out the old show don't tell trope here that I am sure you have heard a million times. This line right here struck me.

    There was a fog wrapping itself around everything outside - houses, trees, cars, mailboxes. It was so thick; you’d believe that it would have substance if you touched it.

    This is the spot where you can amp things up and really start off with a bang. Show us the cloud of fog rolling in. Don't use the "was's' as they are telling. Try and re-imagine this scene and describe it without using was at all.

    Other than that, very good. The characters feel real enough and I am imagining teenagers. It is totally believable to see them trying to share an assignment and arguing over who is doing more work.

    Keep on with this one. I love the premise.

    Hope this helps.


  10. Hi Theresa. You're really brave, sharing a beginning. And it's really good, I think! I definitely want to know more about what's going to happen, and the strangeness of the world is painted very well.

    One thing to maybe consider - of course it's just my opinion - I found the first sentence really interesting but a little bit confusing when I went on to the second, since the connection between Walmart and 'It started off as an ordinary night' wasn't immediately obvious and a bit jarring. I'm sure you can fix it easily to flow better, if you want. Excuse the nit-picking! :)

    Other than that - keep going! I want more!

  11. Katie, thanks for the tip - I don't know how I missed that. I appreciate your comment.

    Talli, nit-picking is good because I wanted feedback. Thanks for the advice.

  12. Hi Theresa,
    I was intrigued by your extract, also let my 13 year old read it (big reader) and she read it in one go without stalling and she definitely liked it and would read more.
    I agree, you have something, I would definitely amp up the fog bit to make it more dramatic and to contrast with the routine teenage conversation.
    I like the voices of the two characters, and like the names, can see what you are doing with the Eve characters name, I think.
    Thanks for sharing

  13. Brigid, how sweet of you to show it to your daughter! I like the idea of amping up the fog. Just after where I stopped, there's A LOT about the fog. Thanks for the feedback!

  14. I think you've got something here. Saving the world might be a little hokey, but from your opening paragraphs it sounds like, at the very least, they are going on an epic adventure. It sounds like this manuscript is nagging at you, so go for it!

  15. I like this beginning. I think you've got a good set-up here and I really love the last line. I'm not a big YA reader, but I think I'd read more of this. :)

  16. Melissa Sarno, thank you for the encouragement.

    Sarahjayne, that's interesting that you like the last line because I just changed it yesterday morning. First they both "wanted to be a part of it", but I realized that wasn't a genuine statement because he takes the lead and she's reluctant for much of the quest.

  17. Oh, I think it's certainly intriguing enough not to set it aside for good. You have layers of conflict, all of them interesting, which right off the bat is a positive. But the question is how strongly do you feel about this story? Is it something that you will have to force yourself to work on? If so, then perhaps now is not the time to work on it. Writing is a passionate act, so--in my opinion, anyway--you should feel passionate about what you are writing. If you love this story, I say give it another go. Whatever you feel might be hokey or problematic can be resolved in the editing process.

  18. Compelling beginning. Thanks for sharing. Let us know when you publish.

    Who says you can't start on the manuscript you're dying to write and then switch back?

  19. I am no expert but I really like the beginning. You certainly hooked me in. I want to find out what happens next! I wouldn't put it aside if I were you but hey...I just teach kindergarten, what do I know? Happy Easter!

  20. Very interesting story idea, Theresa! I have to admit, the fog swallowing the Wal Mart does sound like horror to me. I'd be interested to see what other direction you might take it in, if you're not going to write it as horror. The names Adam and Eve also stuck out to me, I'd probably change one of them unless you've got a really good reason to keep them both.

  21. Carolina Valdez Miller, I do feel strongly about the story. I think after all these comments, I'll keep at it. You're right - I can change anything during editing.

    Jennifer Beza, I will write the other one soon. Right now, I figured it wouldn't hurt to polish this one and see if any agents are interested. It certainly takes longer to start from scratch until getting it ready to query!

    VKT, thanks for the comment - kindergarten teachers' opinions are welcome. I hope you're having a Happy Easter.

    Susan, my husband doesn't like the cliche of the names either. He said it makes the ending too obvious. I remember the editor at the critique liking the names. If an agent tells me s/he likes the story, but not the names, I'll have no problem changing them!

  22. Have you made a decision yet about what you are going to do? I hope you don't put it aside.

  23. VKT, I'm going to keep at it. Thanks for asking!

  24. Cool! I loved the first sentence, especially. And the tension is definitely there.

    When I decide if it's the book I need to work on by how much I feel myself longing to work on it. Then again, I'm probably not the person to take advice from because I've stopped and started half a dozen different books last year alone!

  25. Have you queried this with agents? I say go for it if you haven't. What do you have to lose?

  26. Great intro. I like the sprinkled sky line. :)

    The fog stuff reminds me of the black smoke on Lost, which is a good thing. Intrigue is good. Go, fog, go!!

  27. Jackee, it's already written and I'm enjoying rereading as I edit it, so that's a good sign.

    Mary McDonald, I haven't queried yet. I'll polish it and send it soon, and see what they say.

    M. Gray, I don't know about the smoke on Lost. I may be the only person in America who doesn't watch it. Thanks for the feedback.

  28. Mixed review:

    Like someone mentioned in a previous comment, I feel a little "meeh" about the Adam and Eve names. You also use a few non-said dialogue tags that rumple my editorial feathers (e.g., snapped, complained).

    That said, your premise made me want to read more. So, Theresa, I'll make you an offer--if you send me the first ten pages (<>2500 words) in the body of an email (my email's in my Disgruntled Bear profile), I'll do a line-edit and content analysis for you. I will then give you honest feedback as to whether it needs another round of editing or two, a major overhaul, or should be classified as a "learning experience." (this last designation is the resting place of my first novel, RIP).

    I did this for a blog contest a few months ago, and, while I'm kinda the Simon Cowell of YA fiction critiques, I really will tell you straight what works and what doesn't. Feel free to start with your query letter, if you have one; I'll give you feedback on it, too.

    And either way I'll send you a t-shirt; thanks for entering the contest over at DB. Can you take the picture in front of the John harvard statue?

  29. Disgruntled Bear, I can take a picture in front of John Harvard! That's funny because I just walked through there yesterday and commented on the cluster of people that are always around it.

    Thank you for the kind offer of looking through some pages. I'll think about it after it's got some more polish.

    Good luck with your book.

  30. I don't think there's anything wrong in saving the world, as long as you sell it so the reader is on board too. The higher the stakes the better, per WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, and yes, I definitely recommend the book and workbook. Thanks for checking out my review!

  31. Olleymae, thanks for reading the beginning. I'm going to look for the book in the store. Thank you for the recommendation.