Totally fine

Today I finally sat down and started reading the 4th readthrough of my manuscript. Whatever excited clarity I had a month or so ago is well and truly gone, sad to say. But I did get inspired: I was inspired to go back and read the zero draft.

I wanted to know what had changed, why exactly I made the changes that I did, the discomforts that prompted this revision. So I went back and re-read the second chapter, which is kind of the most important chapter because it’s where all events are set in motion. I read what I’d originally written, expecting it to be monstrous and unwieldy and frustrating.

It might actually be better than what I revised it into.

I’m really put out by this. On the one hand – yeah, sure I can just go cut-and-paste stuff so that it all fits back in. But the superstitious part of me now worries that with each pass of revisions I’m making this story worse instead of better. I know that structurally what I did with the revision had a more concise, less unbearable-to-read end result, but some of the content was inevitably lost in the process, and it’s content that has a certain depth and richness that isn’t in the new revision.

It’s kind of like comparing Batman Returns to Batman Begins. The Nolan films are very clinical. They have a clear structure, even if that structure is privileged more than the internal logic that powers the story and ends up feeling very contrived in places. It holds together very cleanly, but perhaps a little too cleanly. Burton’s film, by contrast, is a terrible film structurally; where Nolan has forced contrivances, Burton has an almost aggressive disregard for clarity and cohesion. But the tone of Returns is what makes it so oddly engrossing; it’s less of a movie and more of a Lacanian essay (a pretty good one, admittedly), but the upsetting fusion of camp whimsy and abject misery that overshadows the goings-on is, in many ways, the main character.

And Catwoman. Catwoman is the main character also. Embarrassingly so.

It has more guts than Nolan’s films, and while I prefer watching Nolan’s version of the Dark Knight legend, I admire what Burton brought to it, in all its fucked-up glory.

That’s kind of how I feel when I compare these two drafts. The zero draft is, to put it bluntly, unusable in terms of telling a story. It’s too sprawling and unfocused, too indecisive. It feels like a chore to read it from around the mid-section until almost the very end. But every now and then there’s a seam of depth and rawness that the more polished revised version doesn’t have. What the revision does have is a better structure, tighter pacing and something resembling continuity (aside from all the continuity errors that are there because I’m lazy), but it comes with a number of very uncomfortable, trying-really-hard-to-be-meaningful moments that I am almost as embarrassed to admit I even wrote as a lot of the zero draft.

Currently I want to painstakingly read through all of this revised draft and make changes as I go, chapter-by-chapter, pretty much. I don’t think I can take another readthrough. But maybe that’s because the first half of the story is the part that seems easiest to revise, and I just want a sense of accomplishment for its own sake. I did plan to read the whole thing today, and I think I can do it. I’m just not sure I’m in the right frame of mind to really get anything out of it.

On top of that, reading just a little bit of the zero draft made me miss it, and while on the one hand I may just be prone to missing things, it is also possible that I made some revisions that didn’t need to be made at all. I know part of the goal I had in mind when I was revising was to cut it down to around 80k words, simply because that was the figure I’d heard YA novels are supposed to be if you’re trying to shop them around. I mean there was also way too much internal dialogue and a lot of it was indecisive and infuriating to try and keep up with, but some of what I cut out I probably didn’t need to.

Then again, before I went back to read it, I literally couldn’t remember what was even in the zero draft. And if I can’t remember it, can it really be that important?

I think I have a different story on my hands than when I started this whole thing, and I think that’s a good thing.

All right. I’ll read it. (The current version.) It was my plan; and you should always stick to the plan, even if only to find out that it’s a bad plan and you should do something else. That’s something worth being certain about. And I still have to work out how to juggle these characters’ sub-plots and work them into the main plot in a satisfying way, because currently it’s really dispersed and kinda jarring. I think. Maybe not.

So I should read it and find out.

Ignore this post; everything is totally fine.