Recently, I finished the final round of edits on For Darkness Shows the Stars, which took significantly longer to write than every other book I’ve ever written, with the exception of Unpublished Manuscript #4 (otherwise known as The Book I Wrote on a Broken-Screened Alphasmart While Living in a Tent in Oceana). I began FDSTS in January of 2010, which is also the month I found out I was pregnant.
Number one thing I’ve learned: If I ever get pregnant again, schedule a big vacation time into my writing schedule.
I finished a first draft in June of that year. It was… not good. There were growing pains, both on my abdomen and in my attempts to adapt a mature Jane Austen novel to a post-apocalyptic society populated by teenagers. The Austen version relies heavily on romantic conflict derived from not one, but two (perceived) romantic triangles. I didn’t want to write about romantic triangles. I particularly did not want to write about romantic triangles in the way that so widely populates the YA paranormal genre these days, even though that would have been the easy way out. The characters I’d created had bigger problems than romantic rivals. Yes, they were there, but even removed, the conflicts existed. The rivals were symbols of the vast gulf which separated my leads.
Commence draft two, in which I threw out pretty much everything except for the first 50 pages of the book. This should also be called draft 2a-2e, because I kept trying things until I reached a solution I was happy with. I felt like I was on the right path, but I had too much on my plate. There was no way I’d be able to do justice to the story in my head while pregnant, sleepless, and preparing for Q’s arrival. My editor wisely suggested delaying the book. I tearfully agreed.
After Q, after maternity leave, and after I got my writing legs back underneath me, I wrote draft three. It was better. I was even surprised how much stuff I had been able to incorporate from draft one. I sent it to my editor.
She sent back a seven page revision letter.
This time, I threw out about 30 of those first 50 pages. Turns out writing two halves of a book a year apart does not make for the most cohesive whole. For draft four I rejiggered most of the plot, clarified and simplified the worldbuilding, streamlined some structural issues, and completely rewrote the ending. The new draft was 10,000 words longer. Sent it in again.
One page revision letter, plus in-manuscript notes.
Draft five needed a whole new ending. But to get to that ending, I had to do a bunch of rewrites in other parts of the book. Another 5,000 words were added, but it was more like 15,000, since I cut out the broken ending.
And now, here we are. The book is done (save copyedits and proofreading). I’ve even (squeeeeeee) seen a cover comp.
It’s become fashionable in places for writers to boast about how little work they did on a book. “I got the idea for this while I was making dinner and I finished it by bedtime.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful when you have a “gift” story like that. I’ve written a story I love in two days. But sometimes stories take longer to get right.
And getting it right is the point.
So, if you’re a writer and you have been laboring over your draft and feeling frustrated, and wondering if it’s all worth it when there are others you see who toss off a book every week… it’s worth it. Your book is not their book. Its needs are not the needs of their book. Get your book right.
There were many challenges that went into the writing of this book. It was an adaptation and I felt a strong responsibility to Jane and all of her readers to do it justice. I was working in a new world, in a new voice, and with a complicated, non-linear and multi-faceted structure. And then of course, there was the intervention and stresses of “real life.”
And it was worth it. Because I’m so proud of the result.
Okay, enough philosophy. Let’s see some numbers (as I’ve done in the past):
- Number of months spent drafting: 17
- Number of plotlines rejected during this process: 5-8 (depending on your metric of measurement)
- Length: ~85,000 words
- Difference in length between first and final draft: +18,000 words
- Parts: 3 (one more than Jane’s)
- Chapters: 41
- Un-chapters: 20
- Pages in manuscript version of draft (Note: will be different than typeset book!): 316
- Body count: (guys, this is a Jane Austen retelling) 0
- Unicorns: (Jane. Austen.) 0
- Zombies: (Jane… oh, wait.) Still 0
- Number of main characters invented whole cloth with no correlation to Persuasion: 1
- Maximum number of Persuasion characters coalesced into any one FDSTS character: 2
- Number of Persuasion characters cut completely because I found their plot lines to be entirely too creepy in the adapted version: 1
- Number of all-nighters I pulled while working on this book: 6
- Number of human beings I gestated while working on this book: 1
- Number of times I accidentally referred to said human being by main character’s name during the revision process of this book: >12
- Amount of money I should probably keep in reserve to pay for said human being’s therapy bills once she realizes I call her by the names of the imaginary people in my head: >1 million dollars
And there you have it, folks. Manuscript #12.