Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Revision finished; Fear faced

How could I have thought it was done? How could I have thought it was finished before?

I completed the revision of Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter, and it's a good job, I think. I'm waiting to hear what Tori (My Trusted Reader) has to say before I ship it off to Eddie the Agent, but I think it answers all the questions and problems.

As I worked – at the end it was three solid days, hardly moving from the keyboard – I kept asking myself that question. Why didn't I see this? How could I have missed making that connection? What the hell was that doing in the story?

Eddie the Agent wanted me to compress the first six chapters into three. I did not. It seemed like almost everything I tried to trim out made the story flat, uninteresting. I shortened and tightened it a little, but the problem, I realized, was that not enough happened in those chapters. Not the right things, anyway. So I actually crammed more in, more detail, more action, before the main character makes the choice she has to make, and did it in slightly less space. Because the details tell you why she makes that choice, so how can you just throw it away? You can't.

That, of course led to other issues. The scene with her father giving her a brooch from India on her birthday was a nice one, but it didn't advance the story so I took it out. But if Dan doesn't give her the brooch before he leaves, she can hardly bring it with her when she goes to find him, can she? Things like that. How could I have gone two years without realizing that the guy she meets in the tavern on Nevis should be connected to the problem she had earlier in Hampton – they can't be two, unrelated things, they've gotta mirror each other, or what's the point of either scene?

That's the question you've gotta keep asking yourself. What' the point of this scene? How does it tell my story? And if it doesn't, cut it out. It may be the most beautiful or wonderful or action-packed scene ever written, but if it doesn't tell your story, what the hell is it doing in the book?

So the book is a little tighter, 84,468 words now, compared to the 85,086 words I had foolishly labeled as the "final" draft last year. And there may be another draft or two before all this is over, I recognize that. Who was it who said, "A book is never finished. It's eventually shipped off to a publisher, but it's never finished."

But the biggest thing – I faced my fear. I don't know if I beat it, but I faced it.

I wrote last year about a visiting author with great lessons for Tori's fifth graders – and for me. I bought a couple of his books including "Wiff and Dirty George," a chapter book for I would guess third/fourth graders.

The two boys in the book are about 9 or 10. There's also a girl of that age in the story and the boys are painfully, shyly, comically aware of her and the fact that she's a girl.

That is more sexual tension than I wrote in either of my two YA novels. And that's a problem.

Because YA readers, middle school and high school students mostly, want a little romance, want a little sexual tension. Especially the girls. Not sex, good god no! Not romance even. Just that heightened awareness you get when you notice someone for the first time. That flutter in the gut. That tingle.

And that, my friends, is my greatest fear as a writer. My Achilles heel. I'm trying to write about a 14-year-old girl noticing a guy for the first time in her life and how that makes her feel. Next month I'll be 57. I'm a guy. The flutter in my gut is definitely not puppy love.

I am not writing a passionate teenage love story. This isn't Twilight, only with pirates instead of vampires. This is the story of a girl who sets off to rescue her father from pirates, and on the way meets a young sailor who makes her kind of flutter inside and she's not sure why. I've raised a few teenage girls in my life, and I am confident they can and will fill in the blanks.

I think I handled it OK, but I'll wait and see what Tori has to say about it before I ship it back to Eddie the Agent. Then he'll try to sell it, and then I'll find out how close it is to finished.

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