The push and pull of book assembly

I always have more ideas than I can use in a book. Part of my process isn’t so much pulling things together as weeding things out, and it’s an emotional process. There’s nothing worse than characters looking at you with big, sad eyes when you tell them it’s not their turn to come out on stage. Next book. Maybe. They trudge away, dragging their feet, heads bowed, mumbling something about contracts.

The problem is that I never know exactly what goes or stays until draft 1 is complete. A lot comes to light when there’s a chance to step away and think about the book as a whole. Given deadlines, that usually lasts about ten minutes, but a period of several weeks is best.

What emerges for me is theme. One writes a series of events, but one also writes what the book is about. That “about” is key and constitutes much of what they call the writer’s voice. What issues to you address through the actions of your characters? Family? Self-actualization? Fate? Atonement? The iniquity of shoulder pads?

Sometimes I start out thinking my book is about X only to discover it’s about Y. The theme that sneaks into my text is usually smarter, more sophisticated and altogether better. My next step—part one of the pulling together process—is then reshaping what I’ve done to show it to best advantage and the pretending that’s what I meant to write all along.

My biggest flaw is dropped threads. As I head into draft 2, I’m constantly tripping over plot ideas that fit some other version of the story but have nada to do with the end product. A lot of this has to do with the breathless rush that happens when characters are telling me their scenes. I just record the stuff as it comes along, figuring I’ll go back and fix it later. I keep a notebook by the computer where I can jot notes down. Right now as I write ICED I have:
• What did Perry know? Why did he ask Baines to go to the University?
• Why did they kill St. Hiliare?
• Who was the gunman?
Don’t ask me. I have to figure it out like everyone else.
Eventually, though, the questions have to be answered, and that’s the other big “pulling together” that happens. Nothing bugs me worse than sloppy plotting, so I can’t exactly let myself off the hook. Some threads will get snipped off. Others will be properly woven into the story. If I do a good job, the effect will be seamless.

Someday I’m going to keep a log of how much time I spend writing a book versus editing it. By the time page proofs are done, I’m willing to bet the ratio is 2:1 or even 3:1 in favour of editing. Anyone want to place bets?


  1. Jodie Esch says:

    You are so right. First there is the work of getting the story down and then figuring out what you have.
    And true, the editing/polishing/weeding is way more time consuming than most folks realize.

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