Friday, March 19, 2010

Rewrite Experiment

I finally finished the rewrite of my most recent mystery story, The Body and the Bomb. It bloated a bit: up to almost 8,500 words, which makes me a little unhappy, but it’s better.

This was a bit of an experiment. I printed out the last draft, went through it with a pen -- then instead of opening up the original file, I typed it all back in. The theory here is that this is what writers used to have to do in the bad old days of typewriters and hand writing and clay tablets and oral tradition (that last one probably got ugly when you were really embarrassed about a draft). The results were mixed.

On the plus side, I had to give everything at least some attention. Having just finished a read-through, I had the whole thing in my head and I knew exactly where it was going. This was a great help in terms of deciding what clues had to go where, and which bits weren’t pointing in the right direction. I think that the result is a smoother piece of work. Also on the plus side was that I was more willing to junk large sections of text that I hadn't recopied yet. Heck, the laziness factor probably saved me a few hundred needless words. This was particularly true at the end: I had never been happy with the last two sections, and on retyping I just balked at doing all that work on something I thought was sub-par. This prompted me to produce what I consider a much better ending.

On the minus side, it was not nearly as helpful as I thought it would be in terms of making structural changes. Part of this was my failure to think ahead and put page breaks between sections, to see how things read in a different order. As a result, I focused far more on tactics rather than strategy, and had to go back through later to make the more sweeping high-level changes that the story needed. Also on the minus side was the fact that retyping was an opportunity to introduce new and interesting typos.

Bottom line for this experiment: It's a worthwhile thing to try, but only when I'm alread very happy with a draft, but when I expect to have the time and energy to go back through it again. I am not sure that this would work well for a much longer work, but I may try it.

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