Lazy Writing: A Confession

Authorial Essentials

I wrote this novel a while back. This one was notable in that it was my most recent, and my favorite. I have a lot to be proud of in that book.

About a month ago, I got some incredibly solid feedback on it and set about the biggest rewrite I’ve ever had to tackle. I was going to have to go through it chapter by chapter, not just fix a scene here or there. I printed up my outline, made notes, and realized that there were little things that needed to be added to maybe half the chapters.

Despite the scope, the additions were relatively minor. A bit more action here and there, a bit more interaction shown between two groups, maybe a bit more info on one area of the plot. But it was largely just tweaks. No problem!

I hit the midpoint of the book last night, and the second half won’t require quite as much work. I was feeling pretty goddamned good about it as I took the bus home from the coffeehouse last night.

On the bus ride home, however (and again as I was falling asleep), something hit me. I had fallen victim to the very detailed outline when I wrote the novel. And it made me lazy not once, but twice.

Show–don’t tell.

It’s one of the most basic rules of writing a good story.

At two points (at least I’ve only found two of them so far), I put in a few lines of flavor text that were meant to illustrate the danger and random violence inherent in the world. Both times, they were expository. One was a paragraph long, a flashback as someone dimly remembered what had gotten them to this point. The other was three lines long, the random mention of a fight meant to illustrate a mood.

Both times, these were things that I thought of on the fly, dropped in for color or to explain a plot point.

Both times, I should have ignored the detailed outline and just written the goddamned scene and put it where it needed to go. See, it wasn’t just that I needed more conflict. I needed to actually show the conflict that I had already dropped in there–lazily.

That three lines of exposition turned into two pages action. It brought the violence and chaos of the situation home to one character that is otherwise isolated from that kind of thing for over half the book. It builds the world, builds her place in it by showing how she reacts. Those two pages do ten times the work that the original lines did. What’s more, they do it for a completely different character.

So now I’m on the hunt. I’m still doing the rewrites I put into my notes. But I’m also scanning through for more instances where I might have been lazy. And I recognize, lazy in this case is all kind of relative. I mean, I did write the damn thing. Close to 90,000 words. And I’ve made more than a few passes through cleaning it up. But that temptation to cut corners, to settle for “good enough” is…well, I don’t ignore that voice as often as I could. And rewrites are the price you pay for slack.

So, enough slack for now. Time to get back to the hard work. I still have about 130 pages to go through. Might even have to add a chapter before it’s all said and done.


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