Monday, December 31, 2007

Three drafts, four drafts, five ...

In a few days, subscribers to my free newsletter WELL READ get an exclusive sneak peek at my brand-new short story -- which also happens to be the WORLD PREMIERE of a brand-new series. I had hoped to have it ready to send before Christmas, but find myself still fine-tuning it. I would not be surprised if I have reached something like seven drafts. And I'm still trying to get it right.

(You think I have it bad, Dean Koontz will go through 20, 30, even 40 drafts for each page -- "whatever it takes" -- before he moves on to the next page.)

The whole process goes back several months, in fact, when this piece was originally intended to be a 20,000 word novella. But in revisions we trimmed the unnecessary words and it dropped to about 15,000. In May, I had what I thought was a "final" draft. (But even then, I had this nagging feeling it still was not quite right.)

I did not look at it for several months. (Don't worry, I had plenty to do, including a new draft of one novel, and several drafts of a pitch for another.)

Then a couple weeks ago, I finally had a chance to sit down with the novella again. Reading it with fresh eyes, I cut another 2,000 words or so, edited some sections for clarification, improved some word choices, added some bits here and there, changed some transitions ... and felt a lot better about what was now a long short story.

But Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine won't even look at a story longer than 12,000 words. So I made some more cuts, and got it down to under the magic number. (As one of my college instructors would say, "When you cut the good stuff, it leaves you with the great stuff.")

And I thought I would be done.

But this is a mystery story with a certain literary device, and also the start of a new series. I want to get the details just right. I imagine that it's not unlike working on a watch -- each piece needs to fit in its place and do its part, or the watch won't work.

Each printout I think, "At last, this is my final draft." And then I find something: This sentence is missing a word. This bit of dialogue doesn't communicate what I need. The spell checker didn't catch that this was the wrong word. This information in this paragraph is incomplete, the information in that paragraph would work better on another page. This line needs to be set up earlier.

So ... I am going through the story yet again this week. And hope to have it ready for my friends in a few days.

If you want to see the results for yourself (when they become available), sign up for WELL READ now. (It's free!)

P.S. -- This blog entry has been revised six times.
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Die Laughing: Funny Crime and Mystery Fiction


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