Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Evolution of a Story

Here is the story of Secrets of Skin and Stone from birth to where I am now.

Once upon a time in April of 2010, I wrote this story about a girl with OCD, and the guy who liked her a whole lot--and he was a gargoyle. Back then, it had the soap-opera worthy title of "Shades of Obsession." *Wendy gags*

There it is.  Isn't it pretty?  I thought so.  It was 70K, so basically just a baby novel compared to most of mine. As I've done in the past, I set it aside once it was done so I could gain perspective.  In September of 2010, I took another look at it... felt ill about the title, so I changed that and a good many other things, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it.  I was already querying on a few other things, and I'd been asked by Sarah to do a revision on Curse Me a Story. (She hadn't seen this book nor was she my agent back then.) So, I set aside "Good Girls Don't Kiss Gargoyles." (Yes, that was the name back then.)

Then, in January 2011, I got this crazy idea in my head that I was going to do Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award and I was going to use this book... after I changed the name to Secrets of Skin and Stone and majorly worked it over. Majorly. Sarah contacted me about another revision on Curse Me a Story, and I said I'd do the revision for her after I finished this revision of Secrets of Skin and Stone because there was a contest deadline looming. She asked me about this book and then asked me for a look at it when I was done with revision.

I was determined to polish this story until it cracked to pieces and then polish them too. I was going to treat each chapter like a short story and severely revise it to death.  I started reading it aloud, and I realized my novel set in Alabama didn't have an accent... at all. So, that revision took a while. Reading it aloud for over a week made me hoarse, and I talked with a southern accent for at least a week. The deadline passed, and I didn't enter, but the manuscript that emerged from the fire was the one that got me repped.  When compared to the original, it looked like this:

The black is what lasted... so very little. It was up to 90K, though.  Yay!  90K!  Sarah helped me polish it again, and we worked through a lot of things, and it went out for submission.  We got feedback from producers (through the film agent with my literary agency) and editors, and I went back to revision and worked on it over the summer.  This time for a MAJOR revision. It needed more plot... and action... and cowbell.  Yes, cowbell.  Violent cowbell. I stripped it down to the bones and moved things and rewrote and revised and by the end of August, I was done--even though I knew I wasn't. It didn't feel complete. It was better, but it wasn't done. I sent it off to Sarah with a "Better?" email, hoping she'd be able to direct me.  It looked like this:

Holy frijole, Wendy!  It's all red!  Yes, that's because I realized that I started off by telling about this traumatic event that had happened (her dog's death) instead of showing the event.  In retrospect, I don't know why I did that. When you have a traumatic event, you don't throw it in the background and describe it as "this thing that once happened earlier today."  Just FYI. Anyway, I knew it wasn't done. I just knew it wasn't. It wasn't a surprise when Sarah agreed.

At the beginning of September, Sarah started getting back to me with notes on how to do another revision. There were some line edits that I whined about.  There were also a lot of notes in the form of "What ifs..." and they were brilliant. They were just what I needed.  I did another revision, focusing on a new character and the later chapters. I finished that last night and sent it off to Sarah. I'm not completely sure it's done, but the novel has changed drastically since before the summer. It feels done, but Sarah will be able to tell for sure if I've finally nailed what the feedback was getting at. If not, we'll go back at it again with more cowbell until it says Moo.

Most pages, if the changes are tracked, look a lot like this when compared to April's version of Secrets of Skin and Stone:

It's at 87K now. I cut entire chapters and moved other chapters to a different location.  It's been the most brutal revision I've ever done, and I couldn't have done it without Sarah because I couldn't have seen the possibilities on my own. It's interesting to see entire pages of red that are either entirely new or entirely cut. There's something deeply satisfying about seeing a novel emerge from words strung together. The focus is very different from where it was in April. The voice is hopefully the same. Both are worlds away from that first draft with the awful-awful-awful name a year and a half ago.

So, there you go, there is the evolution of this book up to last night. *fingers crossed* that it'll be less brutal revisions in the upcoming weeks.

One thing is for certain, that book is not the book I started with--it's much better.


  1. Wow...that's a lot of revision. <---That's me being eloquent :) I'll cross my fingers for you too!

  2. Every time you post, Wendy, it throws me off and for a moment I wonder if I posted and didn't notice. (Blogger notifies me of my posts too for some reason.) Thanks!

  3. That's...amazing. Sounds like your edits are a lot like mine right now. A ton of reimagining the story and lots of rearranging and rewriting.

    I have my fingers crossed for you, that all this work means you'll have a very short editorial letter when it sells.

    Go Wendy go!

  4. Thanks, Miriam. That's exactly how it's been. I'm hoping for the same thing. That would be magical. Actually... having it sell would be magical. : D