Right before coming to Maine to spend a week with my parents, I finished a revision on my work in progress. Certain types of revisions, I find, tend to recur again and again. In this case, the revision was the sort where you make small changes to the first third of the book, moderate changes to the middle third, and completely rewrite the last third. This is basically the kind of revision you engage in when, during the drafting process, you had a decent start and then went completely off the rails. It’s the opposite of the kind of revision, also common, where you completely rewrite the first act and leave the last two acts untouched. In one case, you lost track of the soul of the book and need to find it again, and in the other case you found the soul of the book but you only found it partway through the drafting process so now you need to go back to the beginning and pretend like you had it all along.
I was pretty happy with this revision, and I thought I’d make just a few corrections throughout the text and then I’d send it out to readers (right now nobody aside from me has read the book). However I realized as I was reading through the book again, literally as I was reading the first two pages, that there are things I’ve never liked about the main love interest. I’ve tried to handwave these flaws in my conception of her (she’s too perfect, for one thing), but they’ve never run true. She’s just not what she could be.
So for the past week I’ve been doing some brainstorming, trying to reconceive her. And that in turn meant reconceiving the third major character (not the protagonist, but the second most important male character). And now that those two characters are different, all their relationships with all of the other characters are different.
And this is a type of revision I’ve never done before. A relationship-oriented revision. I mean, I did a version of this for Enter Title Here, where I spent a lot of time working with my editor, Kieran, to make sure Reshma’s relationship with the best friend character, Alex, rang true. But ultimately that was a fairly small part of the book, and this is not. This is the core of the book.
I think I know what I’m doing. Or at least, I understand these characters to a much better degree. And I think I can start at the beginning and systematically rewrite all their interactions, and then, I don’t know, see how that affects the rest of the book. I actually don’t think I’ll need to change much of the plot.
What’s interesting is that as you write a book you often have, on some intuitive level, a sense for what needs to go in each place. And even if you aren’t quite able to craft each element correctly, you’ll end up creating a void that is perfect. Oftentimes in early drafts of books you’ll have people acting irrationally, and it’s only when you go back and tweak something that you find that they were rational the entire time: it’s simply that you hadn’t yet put onto the page the reason that your subconscious knew needed to exist all along.
In the same way, in the current draft I have characters reacting in certain ways to other characters–feeling a strong connection to them, basically–that is not merited by the text. As written, the characters just aren’t compelling in the ways they need to be. But because the book acts as if they are, the process of revising them is much simplified.