Friday, September 2, 2011

How Writers Change

I've been going through an interesting exercise. When I first started writing mystery novels around mid-1989, my reading experience for the past several years had been mostly confined to Cold War spy stories. I devoured all the John le Carre, Graham Greene, Len Deighton, Robert Ludlum, and Tom Clancy books, among others. So it was only natural to put my fiction writing efforts into that genre. Except at that time, it became post-Cold War espionage.

I started with a trilogy featuring a disgraced former FBI agent modeled after a man I had met through a friend. I had a different agent for each book, which is another story I covered in my Mystery Mania blog. A couple of the manuscripts got good marks from editors, though they didn't happen to be what the editors were looking for. So no sales. Along with the other four books I wrote before my first manuscript sale, I piled them up in a corner of my office. And in a corner of my hard drive.

After reading what people like Joe Konrath and Rob Walker had been doing, I decided it would be a good thing to revise the trilogy and turn them into ebooks for the Kindle and Smashwords. When I finished work on my new Sid Chance thriller, The Good, The Bad and The Murderous, I put the first book, Beware the Jabberwock, in my laptop and began reading. The first thing I noticed was it ran better than 125,000 words. My published PI novels average around 70,000-words. The next things I noticed were lots of adverbs and many dialog attributions besides the ubiquitous "said."

Another interesting development was a lack of hesitation in shifting points of view. It wasn't done willy-nilly, but when I wanted to reflect a character's thoughts or feelings, I did. There was never any doubt as to whose head I was in.

In each scene, I described the surroundings in detail. Not so much in this book but in the third of the series I ran into problems the agent referred to as "overwritiing." It ran over 600 pages. My editor on the first published book straightened me out on some of this. Besides generally being too wordy, I was saying the same thing in different ways. And I was guilty of over-explaining what was going on. The editor said, "Don't play down to your readers. They're smarter than you think."

Re-working the story after twenty years, I was impressed with the research I had done. I found a lot of good information I had forgotten about. As I moved along, I cut down on the adverbosity (sounds like it should be a word), changed most of the attributions to "said" or "asked," and used breaks before changing points of view.I didn't shorten the manuscript by much, but since it's a thriller, that shouldn't be a problem.

The one negative comment from any of the editors who read the original Jabberwock manuscript was that it "did not seem quite as fast-paced and compelling as a thriller of this type should be." I'll admit it doesn't run at breakneck speed, but it's a story that develops over an eight-month period. It has tense moments and lighter moments and picks up speed as it goes along. My usual first readers will have a go at it, then I'll put it out there for the ebook audience and see what happens. Meanwhile, I have two more to revise. Have you tried anything like this?

Chester D. Campbell


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

It's amazing how much we learn as we continue on our writing path.


xl pharmacy said...

It is a constant learning process that never ends, as we write more ideas and more techniques are improving.