Rewriting Offers Surprise Changes

editingredpenRewriting is an interesting process. Things change.

That’s sort of the point of it, I guess — you’re making changes to the manuscript. But sometimes change is unexpected.

I’m currently working on the second draft of Roses Are White, the third Wolf Dasher novel. I’m hoping to be done tomorrow, so I can get it off to the editor at the end of the week.

My second-draft process goes like this. I print and read the first draft, making editorial notes in the margins as I go. Then I reread the manuscript on the computer, making changes both that I’ve noted in the MS and ones I find as I’m reading.

It’s that second category that often surprises me. You’d think I’d find the changes I want to make on that first read-through. But writing, like any creative endeavor, is evolutionary. New ideas occur as you craft and shape. That’s why I don’t just go through the electronic MS putting in the changes I noted in printed. I read it again.

The plot of Roses Are White concerns the world’s most infamous assassin, Dexter Rose, murdering three members of Alfar’s coalition government. He’s pulled off the first killing and Wolf Dasher is investigating the scene in Chapter 20, trying to find clues that will help him catch Rose before he can strike again.

If you haven’t read the previous books, one of Wolf’s special powers is post-cognitive vision. He can see past events by “reading” objects used in them. Dexter Rose always leaves a white rose as his signature when he performs an assassination. Wolf uses his ability to “read” the rose at the first murder for clues.

In the vision Wolf receives, Rose purchases the flower from a certain florist and then takes it back to his apartment, retrieves the note he plans to leave at the murder, and leaves again. From a structural point of view, the scene is critical, because it tells Wolf where Rose is headquartered, so he can try to catch him. But from a logical point of view, I had to ask myself, why would Dexter Rose go back to the apartment for the note? Why wouldn’t he have brought it with him, so he could go straight to the assassination?

In the first draft, I decided he had made a mistake. He’d forgotten the note. Wolf is amazed at this development and is hopeful of catching him, since, it seems, even the great Dexter Rose is capable of a slip-up.

That explanation worked well enough, and, when I read the print copy of the MS, I didn’t think twice about it. I just noted a few typos.

But here’s the thing. Dexter Rose is human. He’s attempting to assassinate three elves in a nation of elves. He’s a master of disguise, using magic to make himself look like whomever he wants.

When he commits the first murder, he poses as an elfin palace servant to sneak into a guard’s quarters, put him to sleep and steal his uniform. So he’s posing as an elf (two actually) when he commits the crime.

But Wolf’s vision shows Rose posing as a human soldier, who tells the florist he needs the flower for his girlfriend. After buying it, he goes back to the apartment, retrieves the note, and leaves again.

So when does he disguise himself as an elf?

Something had to change. The fix was easy enough to figure out. Instead of Rose making a mistake, I had it all be purposeful. Rose poses as the human soldier and buys the flower. Then he returns to his flat and transforms himself into the palace servant disguise. He takes the flower and the note and goes to the palace, where he then surprises the guard, takes him out, changes disguises, and commits the murder.

That made a lot more sense to me. It had better logic than the world’s greatest assassin making a dumb mistake. It also explained when he put on his disguise.

But that left technical problems. First, I had to rewrite the vision to accommodate the new action. Two chapters after reading the rose, Wolf investigates the apartment. In the first draft, he makes an important discovery about Rose’s disguises. But, with the vision changing, he’d have known that information before going to the apartment.

So I had to take information that was originally revealed in Chapter 22 and move it forward to Chapter 20. Then, when it was time to rewrite Chapter 22, I had to make changes to what Wolf actually discovers at the apartment.

Rewriting is a tricky business. It’s sort of like pulling threads. Change one thing, and, suddenly, you’ve got other things to alter too.

But, frankly, this is what I think is fun about the writing process. Its the crafting and the shaping and the tinkering that make a novel good. Roses Are White is already a better book, because I found this little fix.

This is what rewriting is all about — making it better. You don’t always see a change coming, but that doesn’t make it any less fun.


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