In addition to having taught writing, she published her first novel in 2001. Final Copy won The Drood Review of Mystery’s Editors’ Choice award, was named one of the best eight mysteries published in 2001. A Confidential Source (Mysterious Press, April 2005) received a rave review in The New York Times Book Review and was chosen by The Mystery Guild Book Club as an alternate spring selection. Yesterday’s Fatal published by St Martin’s Press in May, 2007, was named a “Killer Book” by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association and one of the summer’s best reads by Northeast Public Radio. Her new book, Teaser, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in December.
Write With Authority
When writers talk about the “channeling the characters,” or about a story just “coming to me.” I want to scream. Stories don’t just “come to me.” After the adrenaline rush of a new idea begins to wane – at about page 40 to 60, the fear settles in. What if I can’t make it work this time?
I’ve written four novels, now. I should be past this, right? But part of my problem is that I like multiple plots. And these complex plots must converge. For that reason, the first draft feels like torture every time – it’s always an irritating riddle I may not be able to solve.
What I’ve learned about myself is this: I don’t really like writing. I LOVE rewriting.
So, no matter how troubled my first draft is, I struggle to the end. That’s when the fun begins. As insecure as I am in my first draft writing, I’ve gained confidence in my second draft system. It works every time.
I start by letting the draft sit a week or two. This gives my addled brain a rest and let’s me approach it with fresh eyes.
Next, I divide the book into four acts. The setup, usually around the first 100 pages; the midpoint, about another 100 pages, including “the twist” that sends the protagonist in another direction; the climax, which concludes the crisis and critical action; and finally, the reflection, which wraps everything up.
Then, I sit down to read each act with a pen and notebook in my hand. As I read, I make detailed notes. This could be anything from weak dialogue, to stilted prose, to a note that the scene needs a better or different conflict. I mark the page numbers and store the notes in a manila folder for each section.
Something about the longhand note-taking process gets at a different part of my brain, and around Act II or III, a miracle occurs: complete clarity. All of a sudden I realize what I’m really trying to get at with this book. What the purpose of the story is, and what is getting in the way.
I finish my note-taking and write a revision plan. One for each act, and then another for the entire novel. Armed with a plan of attack, I can write with authority. The second draft seems like a breeze. Like I could sit down and write it all in one sitting.
Recently, I had the unique experience of writing a mini-screenplay for my book trailer, and co-directing the project. It was amazing; the same rules applied. Writing the mini-screenplay, casting the actors and finding the props and settings (the first draft,) were really hard work. But co-directing the trailer – pushing for a different attitude in a line or moving a plastic cup for its visual effect – (the second draft) was the most fun I’ve ever had. It was like rewriting in three dimensions.
You can watch the trailer on YouTube. It was a rewriting dream come true.
Thank you, Jan!
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