There are writers out there who can get a great story in one take. One of my current favorites, Christopher Moore, says he seldom rewrites. Wow. I wish I could say that. Unfortunately, my process is not quite so streamlined. I am a former editor and, therefore, a rewrite junkie. My debut crime novel, Too Dark to Sleep, is the product of rewriting. Now there are a ton of writers out there who despise rewriting. I love it. Love it more than writing a first draft. In fact, I really don’t know how to produce a crafted piece without solid rewrite time.
Don’t get me wrong. There are those magical days. Days when you forget you’re creating anything. Instead, it feels like you’re just taking dictation. Writing down words someone is telling you to write. And, let me just say, there is nothing better than forgetting you are the writer. Pages are effortless… and solid. Sometimes those pages don’t need to be touched.
The following scene is a one-take. Pages that needed no additional reworking. Oddly enough, it happened because I needed a scene to fill space to correct a timing issue. In thrillers, timing and pace is everything… so if it’s not right, you can’t let it slide. Faced with a situation and knowing I just couldn’t put in a scene to kill time, I decided to put my lead in a room and see what happened. What I got was and continues to be one of my favorite scenes. To frame the situation, after the loss of her daughter, former detective Maggie Quinn has a debilitating phobia. She’s afraid of the dark.
Maggie opened her eyes and saw the young man asleep in the recliner next to the couch. An empty glass was in his hand. She reached for it, smelled. Whiskey. The clock read three a.m. Still a long time till morning. Had Rayney left the knives out? The medication? Maggie thought about it for only a moment. It felt like someone stuffed her head with cotton. God, she hated tranquilizers.
Caffeine. Maybe that would clear her out so she could think. Caffeine meant going to the kitchen. She paused, looking out the library door. It was a long way. The dark cooed, inviting her to take the walk. It swirled and tumbled across the floor and up the walls like otters playing.
If she pushed out a few of the lamps, Maggie could make it to the desk. Where there was a flashlight. She would definitely need a flashlight. Then move the lamps to the door. As far as the cords would reach. That would get her to the hall light. Maybe. From the hall light, to the living room. Damn it. No overheads. That meant hitting each individual lamp. Maggie took a second to calculate the best sequence. It would work, if she kept her shit together. Then just a few more steps to the kitchen. Yeah, it would work.
Or she could just curl up with the lamps around her till morning. But Phillips was waiting. And Cramer. Rosenberg. All waiting for someone to help them.
Maggie bit her lip and started the assault.
The lamps to the desk.
Easily enough light to push the shadows back. The flashlight wasn’t in the top drawer. Shit. It was probably still in the car. Not a problem. She could still do this. Maggie stepped back, her elbow brushing against the curtain.
Claws reached out. Tried to pull her back. Pull her to the dark behind the curtains. Maggie yanked her arm away. It knew something was up.
Lamps to the library door.
The cords weren’t quite long enough. That meant reaching out in the dark to hit the switch. She didn’t need any light to tell her where it was. The light switch had been in the same place her entire life.
The dark reached for her, digging into her, burrowing to the bone.
The switch and light.
A shriek as it disappeared into the walls, behind the doors and rugs.
Maggie held her arm. The pain was incredible. Like something stripped the flesh off her bones. She trotted down the hall to the living room door and peered in. She could just make out the bags of evidence on the sofa.
“Thank you, Antoine Rayney,” she whispered.
Her eyes surveyed the rest of the room. It would be waiting, Maggie thought. The dark knew what she was up to now and would have its own plan in place. She looked back at the library. There was light back there. Safety. Waiting till morning wouldn’t be so bad.
Melinda Phillips, Nancy Cramer, Brittany Rosenberg.
A deep breath in, then out.
End table light.
Across the sofa.
End table light.
Over the recliner.
She sank back into the recliner that was now bathed in a warm halo. Maggie steadied her pulse as she scanned the room. Nothing. The dark hadn’t touched her. That wasn’t right.
A foot of shadow, then six feet of dark to get to the light. That’s where she would lose. It knew not to waste energy in the living room. Even if the shadows did bring her down, it knew Maggie could still get to light.
But outside the kitchen. One foot of shadow. Six feet of dark.
“Bastard,” Maggie whispered.
The dark giggled a reply.
One foot of shadow. Six feet of dark.
Melinda, Nancy, Brittany.
Maggie thought for only a moment, then moved.
To the closet. Inside. There it was. The dark wasn’t expecting that. It wasn’t waiting there. She grabbed what she needed.
One foot of shadow.
She flipped on the huge camp flashlight.
Six feet of dark.
Slid it across the floor.
The beam from the camp light illuminated the doorway.
Screeching. Like rabbits being killed.
“Gotcha,” Maggie grinned as she ran into the pool of light, spun around, sweeping her hand in the doorway and slapping on the switch.
She caught her breath as she sat on the kitchen floor. The room was bright and warm. Safe. The dark peered at her through the windows. It was pissed.
“Sorry,” she whispered. “Not today.”
Cold Pepsi waited in the refrigerator. She grabbed two cans. Maggie wanted a third, but that meant risking a trip to the bathroom before dawn. She drank one of the sodas as she sat at the table. Nothing ever tasted so good. The second can Maggie took with as she padded back to the library, leaving all the lights on as she went.
So a scene meant to create better timing in the whole novel actually was pivotal in character development and created a connection to a protagonist who is occasionally hard to love. In a couple pages, we know how Quinn perceives the dark. We know that even with something as simple as getting a can of soda, Maggie Quinn will come up with an unexpected solution to solve her problem. More importantly, we know that she will not let fear keep her from reaching her goal. Character is revealed through action. And no rewriting was required. A really solid character does the heavy lifting and comes through when needed the most.
There are scenes that work immediately and those that don’t. There are characters who jump out at you and reveal themselves quickly and easily. Then there are those you have to woo. Usually, the courtship is worth it. There are those days when the stars align and the pages are whispered in your ear and magic happens. On the other days, craft is what keeps the piece moving forward. You write and rewrite. Add pages, delete whole scenes or even entire plot lines or characters. But in the end, the work shows and you have a piece you would proudly hand over to readers… even critiques.
So to all writers who can create a great story in one take, I tip my hat to you and hope to be like you some day. To those who hate or avoid rewriting, don’t. Every time you sit down and write, you become a better writer. Every time you rewrite, you have a more crafted piece.
Elie Wiesel said, "There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don't see them." That’s what good crafting accomplishes. And, in the end, craft is what we rewrite junkies are chasing.
About the Author:
Dianne Gallagher lives just outside Chicago with her family and too many cats. Sad note, her fluffy old dog recently passed away. She has been a freelance editor and ghostwriter as well as a sometimes gardener, steady cook and avid wine drinker. Her debut crime thriller, Too Dark to Sleep, was released in November, 2012 and has been well-received by readers. Crime Fiction Lover says, “If the quality of her debut crime novel is anything to go by, Dianne Gallagher’s name will spread quickly in crime fiction loving circles.” Alice DeNizo of Readers’ Favorite calls it “… a spine-tingling book that readers everywhere will adore.”website * Twitter * Goodreads * LinkedIn * Google+ * Facebook
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