I lost all last week’s work yesterday. It was, perhaps, the luckiest thing that could have happened. Unless I had gone through what I could remember happening in those 10k did and realized, ultimately, it wasn’t nearly enough to have been worth 10k of the word count. I probably would have had to write the last 20k again as I couldn’t have possibly fit all the story into the ending.
If it had been the 10k between 10k and 20k the pacing would have been fine but as the last 10k of the story it did nothing to escalate the pace. In fact, it slowed it down to show the character just how a pre-existing machine worked near harmoniously.
When really, it should have been 10k of escalating warfare. The reality that peace didn’t need to be brokered if no war was near breaking out wouldn’t have occurred to me if everything had gone smoothly.
Because I hammered away all day, every day on laptops that weren’t meant to be hammered on as they were much more fragile electronics. I once killed a laptop in four hours. I thought that was particularly impressive until I broke the record by three hours and thirty-six minutes.
There was no telling what draft of what version would be the last draft or version that survived. I was constantly screaming into pillows as even new laptopswould eat up weeks’ worth of work. And with each new forced rewritten draft, more happened in far less time and it mattered more to the character with that do over, but just the best bits mentality.
I had a brief discussion with a writer who thinks first drafts shouldn’t ever need radical changes. In fact, he called the craft-based decisions to escalate the conflict to escalate the tension unnecessary”mechanical changes.” If you could build a time machine and go back to pre-2004 and asked me why craft didn’t have to be learned, that’s exactly how I would have phrased it. Adding any structure to work that wasn’t organic to the first draft felt like I was betraying that first draft’s intention.
When organic to the reader is usually quite the opposite. To a reader, an organic story feels like it has a heartbeat where the story ends up greater than the sum of its parts because so much of the experience is felt through the reader. Twilight was a terribly written book. But readers enjoyed them. Any writer should be so lucky to capture the hearts of a reader as much as those books did.
I couldn’t be convinced that “mechanical changes” wouldn’t drive the reader further away from the intentions of the first draft. Not in a million years. I had to realize I was wrong myself before I realized a story without tension was a story without a heartbeat.
No matter what genre, literary fiction included, work without tension must be an exemplar of why tension is so important. Any work that can move a reader in which nothing at all matters or is at stake is a work of literary genius.
The 10k I lost had tension in it already. It didn’t have enough of it given its place in the book and all that still needed to happen. I wouldn’t have had the ability to see the engaged handbrake the 10k had on the whole time when the story’s pace should serve the story. It’s hard to lose work but it was a good reminder that almost any work rewritten is stronger for it.
I’m going to try my 10k trick for a while and see if it works to limit tangents in the first draft stage. It seems the equivalent of packaging clothes in vacuum sealed bags to maximize the clothes to space ratio. The less space that isn’t filled with clothes leaves more room for clothes in a finite space.* The less space in a novel filled with what can be cut leaves more room for story to linger with the reader.
*Unless your my wife, who weighs her clothes down with so many books on vacation that rearranging them into different suitcases to beat the weight restrictions is just a part of air travel.