This week, I'm going to tell you a little about what goes on behind the scenes in making a Sporty Girl Book. Writing is often a marathon, but I'm in the sprint portion of the revision for my YA work in progress about rowing. This portion of the journey requires a "head in the boat" mentality– keep my eye on the prize, nose to the grindstone, make revising my first priority, work hard no excuses.
The first 75 pages of this novel started as my creative thesis for my MFA degree at Vermont College of Fine Arts (January-June 2011). After graduation I completed a draft, and did a revision that I sent to an initial group of agents (Spring 2012). These agents each had something to say about the work which led me to a third full revision (Winter 2012-2013). A PEN New England Children's Book Discovery Award (Spring 2013) win led me to my fabulous agent, another revision and submissions to wonderful editors (read: declines and feedback-- Fall 2013). The revision that I'm working on now (Summer 2014) is based on an in-depth editorial letter received Spring of 2014.
This morning's post on Pub(lishing)Crawl from Janice Hardy, Dealing with Multiple Drafts
, outlines a lot of what I'm doing.
Sometime last month I got completely overwhelmed with all of the threads, plots, time and character changes. I couldn't hold the requirements of the revision and the novel in it's many incarnations in my head any longer. I read through the novel again and created a sticky note for each scene. As I went through I wrote "cut" on some stickies and created some that had a general summary of a new scene I needed to write that said "new."
When were things happening? The editor was concerned about the lack of time markers in the form of regular calendar events that could be subtly added as the year went on. I also needed to be more explicit about what the rowing calendar looked like as not a lot of readers will come to this book with the knowledge about crew. Across the top, I wrote the months in the school year.
The colors of the stickies represented subplots and their important actors and vaguely symbolized place. I realized about halfway through that my original use of light orange for "scenes with the best friend subplot" slowly went away on the chart. But did that character really go away or were there just other players who were more center stage? Turns out that as with many books, the threads started to weave together in a natural way. Good to know.
At the far left end of this behemoth are the numbers 1-10. As I did the original placement of the stickies, I made an arbitrary decision on the tension rating for the scene. Did an especially steamy or romantic scene really mean more protag/antag, dramatic or plot tension? Hmm... I think I had been confusing the two. I had to be careful.
My biggest issue was the tension leading to the climax. There was a dip at the end between the emotional climax and the plot climax of the book that caused a "spike" feel for the reader. Why was it there? Why weren't the stickies looking more like that gentle slope up plot mountain? Did they have to? Did my book have a different structure and was that okay? (The panorama doesn't show the end but the pic directly above does.)
I needed chocolate. And time... lot's of time.
I use Scrivener and love it. If you do too, you know that what I'm doing is not that different from Scrivener's capabilities, but for me the tactile sticking and moving of scenes both on the timeline and up or down on the tension axis has been helpful. As I change, cut, and add, I'm making those adjustments on my plot chart and will probably end up with a differently shaped story by the end.
Here's another unexpected side-effect of the plot chart: unrolling it before I get to work has become an important part of the preparation for my work sessions. A ceremony of sorts that let's my mind and body know that it is time to work.
If you have any questions for me, leave them in the comments! Until then it's nose to the grindstone, head in the boat, blinders on