Sunday, 27 September 2015

Re-writing my novel.


For months I was working on this WW2 novel. I was typing on fast, almost with my eyes closed, leaving all the editing till later. I wanted to write something epic; something huge; something fussy. Something like GWTW. (Snort. I thought I could do that.) I made my heroine swoon and I made her do things that they made heroines do in those old movies. (You know, exclaiming 'oh's' and 'ah's'. I know. It's ridiculous.)

And then, when I was about half-way, I re-read it all.

And some bits were AWFUL.

Some bits were mighty good - I was still in love with my characters - I was still super proud of my plot. So I didn't want to quit it once and for all - t'was too precious to quit. So I left it at rest for quite a few weeks and then decided to start all afresh. I read some Lynn Austin treats of books and got inspired to write in a style which is slightly more pleasing to the ear than my attempt to make a Vintage-sounding novel.

And then - which was, heh, yesterday - I rewrote the first chapter. And now it's so much better; I flatter myself. I'm going to show you the before and after's.



These are some paragraphs in chapter one of the original version. CRINGE. I can't believe I'm showing you this. I can't believe I actually wrote it, hehh. (These aren't actually the absolute first paragraphs of the first chapter - just some of the worst ones. :-P)

Harper bit her dry, wind-blown lips so hard that they started to bleed. She wasn’t allowed to cry. She had to be like the ten-year-old girl and go around to cheer up all the little children. Harper felt so guilty again, thinking about not doing anything but complaining while a seven-year-old girl was smiling to everyone in a thin shackle dress. Harper felt guilty about her own dress – a beige dress; ugly, but warm – about just minding her own business, about sitting when there were about ten toddlers who didn’t have a place to sit, about everything! She was such a horrible person, and the war was making her realise it every day, more and more. Oh, if only there wasn’t a war!
Then suddenly an image came into Harper’s head, which promptly made her burst into tears. She thought of her mother, going back to their little house, alone, after standing on the quarry of Dover, gazing at the ship carrying her only child until it was only a dot on the horizontal sea-line in the far back. She was probably crying right now, about everything that had ever happened in her life – about her darling husband who had died one month after their marriage, about her daughter who hated her for sending her away, about being all alone on the tattered mustard sofa without her daughter under her arm. Oh, Harper couldn’t bear the thought of her mother being so unhappy, she just couldn’t bear it! 

Oh my goodness.

I apologise for that. :-P See why I thought it was awful? All the Oh's and the exclamation marks and the bursting into tears. It's so weird and... blehh. Also, it's not a relaxing read. The paragraphs are too long and wrong. Blehhhhhh. My first draft is driving me nuts. 

So I closed the file and re-wrote it. And these are the first few paragraphs of the re-written chapter:

I wasn’t scared, like some children; I was one hundred percent upset. 
Don’t cry, Harper. You’ll see me again. The words of my mother rang in my ears, but they were of no comfort to me. I was upset, and I had to cry. That was how it worked in my young fourteen-year-old emotional self, and I must have cried more than any of the other children on board, which made me even more miserable and ashamed because I was definitely one of the older ones. 
Think of it as an adventure, dear. Look at the ocean you’ll be travelling on and get excited. You’ve always wanted to travel, Harper; please be happy. I looked down at the waves stretching all around me, but the wind only stung deeper into my eyes, making my eyes water in pain. 
“Ma’am?” 
I turned around, sniffing like a horse. “Yes?” 
It was a girl – about ten years old. Her clothes were too small for her and skin-tight, and she wore a straw-hat that looked like it had been nibbled by mice. “Please don’t cry.” 
“What do you mean, Please don’t cry?" 
The girl shrugged. “I don’t like it when people cry.” 
“Well, do you think I enjoy crying?” I stared in unbelief. Then I realised that the girl must be scared or upset as well, and I sniffed resolutely. “Okay, I’ll try to stop.” 
“Why are you sad?” 
“Same reason as everyone.” I found a handkerchief and began to blow my nose and wipe my eyes like a mother on her daughter’s wedding day. I hoped the girl would leave – I felt very silly talking to her. 
“I suppose you mean you’re sad because you’re leaving your family?” 
I gave a sigh and a fake smile. “Yes, that’s the reason. I will miss my mother, and my friends, and loads of other things.” 
“I’m not sad about leaving my mum,” the girl said unexpectedly. “I’m really glad. My mum is always cross with me.” The girl held up her arm and peeled off the fabric off her sleeves. She showed a pink bruise that looked like it had once been nasty. “See? She did this to me. I’m glad I’m going to America. I’ve heard it’s absolutely gorgeous and beautiful.” 
My smile was more genuine the second time. “I hope you land in a lovely family. I’m so sorry about your mum.” 
“It’s okay. I hit her back.” 
I almost laughed aloud. “You did?”

What do you think?  


It still needs some tweaking - for example, the 'my mother's words rung in my ears, but they were of no comfort to me' is a bit cliché and over-done - but I think it's much better than the original style. I hope this is a more fresh and comfortable read. (Also, I've learnt that I'm better at first-person writing than third-person.)

I'd love your feedback.

Also, wish me luck on the complete re-write! It's gonna be a long journey.

14 comments:

  1. Ah definitely! I was so much more invested in the second version. You do write beautifully :)
    I'd love hearing more!

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  2. The second scene is much improved, dear Naomi! I love that you unveil the girl's character and current emotional state through the scene with the girl playing out live. It's very engaging & made me smile as I was reading. :)

    Your opening line is a lot stronger & more direct and confident than in the original opening.

    I have a few minor mechanical suggestions:

    There are a few places where you repeat phrases. If these were reworked, they might make for a smoother read. For example:

    * the wind only stung deeper into [my eyes], making [my eyes] water in pain.* - replace the second "my eyes" with "them"?

    * “I’m not sad about leaving my mum,” [the girl] said unexpectedly. “I’m really glad. My mum is always cross with me.” [The girl] held up her arm and peeled * - replace the second "the girl" with "she"?

    And a couple equally minor suggestions:

    * That was how it worked in my young fourteen-year-old [emotional self] * - "Emotional self" doesn't quite work here (in my humble opinion). We can see she is emotional, so there's no need to label her emotional. It's more effective to show us her emotion (which you do very effectively.) Also, "fourteen year old perspective" or "fourteen year old mind" might be a little clearer than "fourteen year old self."

    * I must have cried more than any of the other children on board * - Since your reader has yet to know that the character is on a boat, you might change this to read "on board the ship" rather than just saying "on board." Your reader may take this line as it stands to mean, for example, on board a train, and then feel jarred when moments later they realize the setting is actually the ocean.

    * Her clothes were too small for her and skin-tight * - Here you've said the same thing twice.

    * and I sniffed resolutely * - Since she just sniffed above, you might drop the first sniff. :) And move the "like a horse" down here. I think the clash of the girl's words against a horse-like sniff could be funny. You don't want the whole scene to be sniffs. :)

    *like a mother on her daughter’s wedding day* - I think this is a great, creative line, but it's also a little distracting because it implies that the character is feeling maternal about a girl going off to get married, when in reality, she doesn't seem to be feeling at all maternal, and the girl she's talking to isn't going anywhere. Do you see what I mean? You want you metaphors to add to the scene rather than to contrast it. When it contrasts it, it becomes distracting. That could be exactly what you want, but I don't think it is in this case. In this case, she'd be more likely to blow her nose like someone trying to combat an intrusive allergy which won't stop talking. :)

    Only my thoughts, Naomi! The scene has a strong voice and two charming characters, and as I said, I love that you move directly into live action and let the tale unfold naturally rather than starting out with exposition, as you did in the first attempt. I bet it's a lot of fun to write.

    I've rewritten my opening chapter so many times I am now mocked by writing friends for being the author of a piping good opening chapter which goes nowhere. :) You have a far better attitude in that you intend to progress forward. I can't seem to get beyond an unrealistic quest for perfection right now. There are SO MANY WAYS I might open my novel, & I feel obligated to try them all! :)

    Very best wishes with this! :D


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  3. First of all, YOU CAN DO THIS! We all believe in you:)

    Secondly, look what an amazing difference just a first edit made! Recognizing the need for adjustments is huge, and you did it so well. The second version was much better; more organized, more engrossing, and more comfortable, like you said. I'm not an incredibly experienced writer myself, but you're definitely on the right track! Keep it up, old bean.

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  4. Naomi, I really, really like your second draft! You're right--the 1st person POV is a much more natural fit for you :) It' funny, you know, because for some people, the 1st person is one of the hardest styles to master--but you're doing great with it!

    I actually kind of liked the "mother on her daughter's wedding day" thing. I do think Jillian has a good point, that it may be a slightly confusing metaphor--but to me, it really seems like something Harper WOULD say (even if it doesn't make logical sense). Like, she strikes me as quite an emotional and rather "poetic" person, and I think her brain WOULD be actively looking for "romantic" types of metaphors to describe her feelings with.

    This is just my own two cents, and I don't mean to come across as argumentative at all :) I just wanted to explain how it struck me, personally.

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  5. Your second draft is AWESOME! Now I want to read the book :) I like that "mother on her daughter's wedding day" line. Sounds just like something Harper would say. I also like the other girl - she's got a lot of spirit! So yeah, a very good read :)

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  6. You probably won't believe me, but I actually LIKED the first draft!
    I don't think it's half bad-a little confusing, yes, and maybe a little melodramatic, but it really wasn't that awful. Honest.
    I did like the 2nd draft a lot, though. It made much more sense and you do VERY well writing in 1st person! And the last part made me laugh. :)
    Anyways, great job and ALL THE BEST for your re-write! I know it can be overwhelming-but I know you have what it takes to be a great writer!

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  7. Firstly, YAY ANOTHER POST -EXCUSE ME- EPISTLE.
    Secondly, there is SUCH a great improvement in the first to second paragraphs, and the second is very well done. :-) You can do first person perspective very well indeed. I'm afraid all of my stories I'm writing are third person, which is really lame and lazy of me. I do want to try a 1st person perspective sometime in the future, though. :-D
    Thirdly, if you keep up what you wrote in the rewritten part, you will have a marvellous story on your hands.
    Fourthly, good luck, old chum. ;-)
    ~Miss Meg March

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  8. Your second draft was definitely an improvement. It pulled me into the story much faster and was a smoother read overall. Maybe first person really is a better fit for you! Keep up the good work!

    ~Miss March

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  9. I don't think the first draft was as bad as you made it out to be, but the second one was really much better!
    Where the first draft was very static, the second one really captivated the reader's interest while at the same time moving the plot forward.
    Good luck with your rewrite! I look forward to reading more about your novel.

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  10. You can do it, Naomi!!!!! :-D

    Re-writing is SUCH a hard journey -- I've been there -- but it is SO WORTH IT if it makes you feel that much better about your story. Haha, the first paragraph wasn't THAT horrible! (Not as bad as Elsie Dinsmore, anyway.) But I did like the style of the second one MUCH better. It was much more straightforward and easy to read.

    Eeeehh, I'm so glad for you, Naomi. Come on, girl. You can do this. :-D

    ~Emsy-wems

    P.S. NOW I WANT TO READ MORE. That's not a hint or anything. ;-P

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  11. Bravo! *claps especially hard*

    I think you take to re-writing remarkably well, m'dear. :) The second draft isn't perfect, of course, but it's a HUGE improvement over the original version. Can't wait to read more of this!

    ~Eva

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  12. Mary, thank you so much!

    Jillian, goodness! Thank you ever so much for all your feedback - what a great help! That's so great! I wish I could have you 'critique-ing' all of my book. :-D I know - there's so many ways to start a book. I have so many different beginnings in my head; but I think I'm happy with this one.

    Olivia, AWW THANK YOU. I'll try to keep it up. :-D

    Jessica, I know! I really am better at 1st person. Seriously, when I write in third person, I keep on accidentally switching over to 1st, without realising it. :-D I like the 'mother on daughter's wedding day' too, but I definitely see what Jillian means. I have let it in for now, but I miiiight change it in the future. :-) Thanks!

    Rosie, thank you so much! I like the other girl too - her name is Suzanna, just in case you were wondering. :-P

    Natalie, goodness, wow, thanks. There is something I like about the melodramatic style, but I think it's too old-fashioned for a modern audience. I think the fresh re-write is more appealing. :-) Thanks for wishing me good luck- I think I'll need it. :-D

    Miss Meg March, Haha yes. Epistle. Haha. 3rd person is not at all lame and lazy! In fact *I* admire a person who can pull of 3rd person - cuz I'm rubbish at it. :-) Thank you so much, dear!

    Miss March, thank you so much!!! Yes, 1st is more for me. :-D

    Rose, thank you. I can be rather hard on my own writing, haha. Yeah, that's what I want - I want the story to flow more. :-)

    Emma Plain and Tall (hahahaha), I know I must DO IT. I must conquer this. :-) What I find demotivating though, is that my chapter one used to be 5000 words, and now it's carely 2000. Shows how much useless boring information and repetition I put in the first time, but still. :-/
    Thank you Emsy, You may certainly read more VERY soon. :-)

    Eva, Goodness, dear, thank youuu! :-) Are there any particular mishaps/things in draft 2 that stick out to you?

    ~ Naomi

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  13. I love the name Suzanna! Wow, this is going to be a good book :D

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