Another Column at MyShelf.Com

Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

Do it again until you get it right!

If there are any aspiring authors out there, you may have heard some writers say that they absolutely hate doing re-writes, polishing up their manuscripts. Sure, it would be nice to simply hammer away at your old typewriter like Jessica Fletcher and then stuff the finished product into an envelope, send it to your editor and then sit back and wait for your six-figure advance. Yeah, right. It simply doesn't work that way. But it's not something you need to dread either.

At a writer's conference a few years back, I attended a lecture by mystery author Jeremiah Healy. He said that you will re-write your manuscript at least twenty-five times before it's ready. At the time I thought he was exaggerating but experience eventually taught me that twenty-five times was a conservative estimate. It seems I always have to learn the hard way.

When I was writing one of my mystery novels I realized that I had reached page number one hundred and still had not brought two of my best characters into the story. They were two homicide detectives and were huge characters; I couldn't leave them waiting in the wings for half of the book. They needed to be part of the action within the first couple of chapters. Re-write number one: Since they were homicide detectives, all I needed was a murder. Seems simple enough but I couldn't spare anyone in the current cast so I had to create a new character to become the victim. Adding a new person to the story can seriously impact the plot and the flow. My little addition resulted in at least three new chapters and the rework of several others. It sounds like a lot of extra work but I saw it as a new adventure and a challenge to blend a completely new person seamlessly into the story.

I think it was author Sara Paretsky who said that we should look at re-writing as an opportunity to change history, and to change it in a way that only the author can. She gave a very inspiring speech on the task of re-writing and editing your work. Ever since that day I've looked at it quite differently. It's a very necessary part of the job of writing and can be every bit as rewarding as that first profound thought

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