I have finished the revision: 91,000 words of Paranormal Crime Noir set in 1934 Los Angeles. Now to read though it and send it on to my agent and Beta readers. Usually I feel relieved, tired, sad, and a little dissatisfied with my work at this stage. But I really like this one.

Now I worry that I have no taste, and it sucks. Writers…


Pulling Change Through

I’m at the half-way point in the revision of the 1930s Paranormal Noir and there have been a lot of changes. Things have moved, been added, been deleted, emphasized, softened, and generally wrangled to the point that older parts often have information that’s no longer correct. So, I’m now in the bitey jaws of Continuity, and it can be a right bastard.

Here’s the new version of the section I’m working on right now. (Just to be clear “Phil” is short for Ophelia):


“So, who was this woman?”

“I didn’t get her name before she tried to kill me, and she wasn’t around to ask afterward.”

Phil stared at me. Then she put a cup of coffee down in front of me very slowly and set the pot back on the stove. “Oh, my God… what happened? You didn’t—?”

“Kill her?” I snorted and went with the truth, bracing for Phil’s reaction. “She was already dead. I sent her on. Like the captain.”

Phil shook her head and blinked. “Wait, wait. She was a ghost? You— She—”

“C’mon Phil… I think you know about me and ghosts. That day Captain Davies showed up wasn’t the first time something spooky’s happened around me at the office, and I’ve stopped buying that you never noticed before. You just didn’t want to say anything, did you?”

“Well what was I supposed to say? ‘Heya, boss, how’re the ghosts today’?”

And here is the previous version:


Phil didn’t see ghosts—not like I did—but she had a kind of feel for their presence that I’d taken full advantage of. We’d never said a word to Pete.


“So, who was this woman?”

“I didn’t get her name before she tried to kill me and she wasn’t around to ask afterward.”

Phil stared at me. Then she put a cup of coffee down in front of me very slowly and set the pot back down on the stove. “Did you—?”

“Kill her?” I snorted. “She was already dead. I sent her on.”

Phil shook her head. “Wait, wait. A ghost? How can a ghost write a letter or… or kill someone?”

“There’s more than one type of ghost, Phil. She was more… self-aware, powerful, motivated by something beyond simple revenge, grief, or hope. That kind can seem as alive as you or me and they’re dangerous as hell. She had me fooled up until she shoved her hand into my chest and tried to rip my heart out.”

The big difference here is that in the old version, Phil knows about her boss’s ability to see and destroy ghosts, and in the new one,  Phil isn’t in the loop, but she’s seen evidence of it. The emphasis shifts from talking about a specific incident, to revealing a secret about Phil and what she knows, while also dealing with other implications of that knowledge. It’s a small thing here, but it’s a major change for the book and has to be consistent throughout the book for character and plot integrity, information continuity, as well as character arcs that effect other parts of the plot and series arc (if there is a series.)

Little changes can have huge consequences and they have to managed as rigorously as the big ones. The best writing includes nothing that can be done without, no matter how small it seems. In the end, no detail is actually “small.”

Sometimes, You Rewrite…

Revising may require rewriting. I know this may not be what you want to hear. And much as I loathed the man, Hemingway may have been right: the only writing is rewriting. Or revising as the case may be. Not every word has to be throw out, but not all should be saved, either. Whole chunks may end up in the virtual trash bin. That is part of the process. It’s certainly part of mine with the current project.

Rewriting is far from my favorite part of any revision. It’s hard for me to completely let go of work already done, especially when it’s a piece that has been pretty difficult to create in the first place. But it is occasionally better to replace a part than to “fix” it. Some original phrases remain, because they work and were strong enough to stick in my memory, but lots of others get flushed, even when I can remember them; they no longer fit, so they have to go, no matter how much I like them.

In the following example from the WiR (Work in Revision), the protagonist is visited by some cops. First the new verision, then the original version.


I finished sweeping up the salt, dumped it into the nearest waste basket, and rose to my feet. “Didn’t know the circus was in town.”

Contorini glowered. “What…?”

“Isn’t that where clowns with big, flat feet and vicious animals usually come from?”


I didn’t like my instinct for what had brought Contorini to the office today. I finished sweeping up the salt and dumped it into the nearest waste bin—it was too dirty to salvage. I pocketed the chain of dimes and rose to my feet. “Sorry to see the standards of the police detective bureau have fallen to flat feet and big mouths,” I replied. “They used to have some self-respect. Back when Captain Stuttger ran the joint.” I kind of missed the poor, dead bastard. He’d wanted me in a cell as much as Contorini, but at least he’d wanted it because he had integrity. Stuttger had known I was guilty, even if the inquest had said otherwise. Contorini just wanted to watch me suffer.

Clearly the second piece is too long, unfocused, and the style is about as steady as a chair with one short leg. While some information is no longer in the selection, the general thrust of the piece is more clear and isn’t watered down by the intrusion of descriptive backstory. The new version still requires some editing and cleaning up, but it’s got a stronger sense of the hardboiled style I’m reaching for without being over-the-top. Most of the info did make it into other paragraphs, but it was shorter, smoother, and better integrated. My total addition to the manuscript was about 40 words.

This is part of what is now Chapter 4, but was originally Chapter 3. When you consider how much was cut from the original example, you can probably guess that I was able to insert other information—even a completely new scene—without adding bulk to the word count, which is a boon for this particular book and this style. More said in fewer words (unlike my blogging.) The original draft has been reworked a lot: First chapter cut, new material added, chapter order and event chronology changed, new scenes added to connect revised story arc and character linkages…. It’s not a light revision and I’m only just starting Chapter 5.

The rest of the manuscript will be revised and tweaked or tossed and rewritten as appropriate. It’s a long process; for this manuscript revision has actually been longer than creation, which is not usually the case for me. But this is entirely new work with an eye to a new series, and that tends to be rougher in first draft than sequels and continuations of established work.

I don’t enjoy this part or writing—it’s one of those processes that can make me want to give up on the whole business, because the writing is no longer “fun,” but if it’s necessary to create a better, more readable, and more marketable manuscript, I do it.

If writing is flying with your idea, then revising is the gritty work of cleaning dirt off the plane and tuning up the engine.

I’ll be glad when I can get back to flying, but for now, I’m scrubbing and tuning.