Wednesday, March 14, 2012

13 WOW Wednesday: Talia Vance on When Revision Means Rewriting

Today's WOW guest is Talia Vance, the author of the YA novels SILVER (Flux, 9/8/2012), based on Celtic Mythology, about a girl who accidentally binds her soul to the one boy it could kill her to love, and SPIES & PREJUDICE (Egmont, Spring 2013), the story of a teenage private investigator who investigates her own mother’s death and falls in love with the boy she is determined to hate. You can catch her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/TaliaVance, on her blog: http://www.YAMuses.blogspot.com, or at her website: http://www.TaliaVance.com


SOMETIMES REVISION MEANS REWRITING

 by Talie Vance

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that most of the turning points in my career have followed closely on the heels of turning points in my writing.

When I set out to write my first novel in 2008, I knew I wanted to write for publication. I researched craft and learned about the industry. By the time the book was finished in 2009, I felt like I knew everything I needed to know to become published. I knew better than to query a novel that wasn’t finished. I knew that a first draft was not the same thing as a finished novel. What I didn’t know was how much I didn’t yet know. How I would keep learning and never stop.

After I finished my manuscript, I revised my draft by fleshing out the scenes and language. I polished those scenes to shine so bright I could see my reflection in them. I got some professional feedback on the opening pages through a critique I won in an online auction. I revised again after getting feedback at a conference. I cut the opening thirty pages and found the real beginning of my story.

I knew publication involved revision, and I had proved to myself I could do it. Or so I thought.
At the beginning of 2010, I queried a few agents. An agent I respected read the full and gave me feedback, but didn’t offer. She liked the writing, and loved some of the scenes, but ultimately, she thought the story wasn’t working as a whole, especially the second half.

I wasn’t ready to hear that the entire story might not be working, so I focused on the part where she said that other agents might feel differently, and I sent out a new batch of queries. One of those agents read the full and asked for a revision. The revision involved some big picture changes to parts of the story, but the basic plot structure remained. All very doable.

That revision wasn’t wasted. It resulted in several offers and ultimately, I signed with my agent, Sarah Davies. Sarah has an editorial background, and she was very upfront with me about the fact that the manuscript would need a significant revision before it would be ready for submission. I had revised for an agent before, so I felt like I was up to the challenge.

Then she said the words, “I think you need to consider rewriting the entire back half of the novel.”
There was a moment of abject panic. I’m not going to lie. But I only let myself indulge it for a few seconds. I knew in my heart that she was right. I was finally ready to hear it.

She started by asking me questions about the story and letting me work through them. As we talked, I discovered that I had gotten sidetracked with subplots and the main story arc was lost in the shuffle. As we discussed the emotional core of the story, I revealed a secret about one of the characters that I had not written into the original version, because I was saving it for a sequel.

At that point Sarah gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten:

“All your best stuff has to be in this book if you want it to sell. Don’t anything hold back for another book.”

She was so right. By keeping my best stuff out, I was not just depriving the reader, I was depriving the story.

This revision was not simply a matter of tweaking a scene of changing a character’s motivation. It involved reimagining the story in a way that fulfilled the promise of the hook. As I outlined and planned, I was amazed by how far off track I had let the original story get.

I went back to the manuscript and cut out the last 40,000 words. I saved them in their own document, with a promise to work them into another story, but I never went back and looked at them again.
After several months of work, I came through the other side with a story I could be proud of, far better than what I could have done on my own. And, a few weeks later, it sold. That novel is SILVER, which debuts later this year.

Since then, I’ve written (and rewritten) another book. And, while I haven’t given up on the dream of getting the plot exactly right the first time around (a girl can dream, can’t she?), I’m open to the idea of rewriting a significant portion of a manuscript in a way I never was before.

I had thought revision was the same as polishing, but polishing is just the tip of the iceberg.

Sometimes revision means rewriting.

13 comments:

  1. Wow! That's awesome your agent gave you so much good advice and you were willing to rewrite so much of your story. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Fantastic stuff! This "revision means rewriting" thing is something I've been working through the past few months. The hardest part is not knowing when it's going to be done. When drafting, I see an end. The real work comes after, though. Silver looks really intriguing!

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  3. Oh, I know this feeling only too well. I got a revision request from an agent. The initial ripple in the first chapter quickly became large enough to tip a boat over (but not big enough to knock over the Titanic--yet).

    Thanks for the awesome post!

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  4. I'm glad I'm not alone! Rewriting is one of those things that I try to avoid at all costs because it involves so much work. I mean, I finally finished a draft and now I have to chuck it? But once I buckle down and do the work, I'm amazed at how much better it is. I'm working on a first draft now, and I already know it's going to require a major overhaul, but I'm powering through, because every word will help me find the real story that's fighting to get out.

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  5. Talia, that is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

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  6. Your courage to rewrite is inspiring! I'll be thinking of this story as I do my own rewriting.

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  7. Great story! I rewrote my novel twice already, and I know I'll probably do it at least once more before it's published. I hope I get an agent as helpful and dedicated as yours. :) Writing a novel is hard work, but it's all worth it, right?

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  8. Rewriting happens a lot more than we think. It is often part of the process. I am learning to embrace it, even though I always hope it won't be necessary.

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  9. Thank you, Talia! Sometimes all the rewriting/reworking can get you down and make you feel like you have no clue what you are doing. Hearing that other authors (and in fact MOST authors) have to do the same thing is a great reminder that we all have to work our tails off at this!

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  10. Thanks for sharing your story, Talia! Appreciate the openness and honesty about revision/rewrites. Makes the rest of us going through the same process feel better. ; )

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  11. Great advice, Talia!! Sometimes rewriting is the best thing we can do for a book no matter how daunting the outlook is.

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  12. Thank you for sharing your story! You know, I've heard there's no such thing as good writing, only good re-writing. :-)

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  13. So great to hear your journey! Very inspiring. Keep up the good work, and the courage to revise. :)

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