Monday, November 10, 2014

What we're writing: Hallie's presses RESTART... again

Here we go again: What We're Writing Week Day 1

HALLIE EPHRON: Sometimes it feels as if I'm writing more when I'm not working on a book than when I am. Advance Readers Copies (ARCs) have just come out for NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, and in the run-up to the book launch in March I'm churning out non-books -- magazine pieces, PR pieces, pieces for which I hope to find a home.

Last time it was my turn on "What we're writing" -- 7(!) weeks ago -- I moaned and groaned about the short story I was trying to write. It's going to be a standalone, a sort of teaser for the new book. And I complained about how hard it is for me to write short. (Not so when I crochet... I started crocheting a blanket and ended up with a pillow.) All in the name of building momentum for the novel.

Back then I posted what **I thought** would be the opening of the story. Now that opening is slumbering peacefully in my OUT file along with vast swaths of that version of the short story which I finished. 

Now called PHOTOPLAY, the story is still about a glamorous party Hollywood party in 1963. It’s still about an infamous murder. But I changed the narrator and made it so much better.

And can I just say THIS is why we have writing friends. Hank came to my rescue when I realized that what I'd written was working, sort of, which didn't feel good enough. She suggested: why not make the narrator a character who's not in the book. Someone who can be an observer rather than a player.

And Voila, sleazy paparazzo Duane Foley was born. Here's the old and the new openings side by side. It's not that the new one is so much better than the old, but trust me, it's a much stronger opening to a more compelling story. And hopefully it will leave readers DYING to read the book.

The best thing about a short story is that when you press RESTART, the do-over involves ditching far fewer words than when you decide to start over halfway into a novel. And I didn't ditch it all. I saved that "receding chorus line of sparkling crystal, wall-mounted sconces." 

Because some of my darlings I just can't bear to murder.

Is RESTART a dirty word in your vocabulary, or just another day at the office?


  1. Driveway/driveway.

    But it is much stronger.

  2. Restart is when your 'writer's voice' gives you a kick in the seat of the pants--and you grit your teeth, ditch what you've written and try yet again to get it right.

    And it doesn't hurt nearly so much when you've got friends like Hank to point you along your way!

  3. I AM dying to read the book. Have been since you first told us about it, and now your short story too. Restart is a word I used to dislike a lot. Now - I've finally come to believe it's a very real part of the process and probably the most important. At least that's what I'm telling myself since I totally scratched several thousand words and started from word one. Again. But like you, keeping some of those darlings that are too perfect to part with. And "receding chorus line of sparkling crystal, wall-mounted sconces" rocks!

  4. I used to groan at restarting. Then I wrote my second "real" novel. By the time I was done (or what I thought was done), I'd thrown out probably 60% of it. When I thought I was really done, I wound up cutting 15,000 words and adding 19,000 new ones. Trust me when I say the 7th draft doesn't look anything like the first one.

    And yes, having a good friend to say, "Try this" makes it easier. I had the good fortune to be asked to join an awesome critique group that is great for that.

    And yes, I want to read the book - and the story!

  5. Ooooh Hallie, I got goosebumps reading version #2 -- now I want to read the whole thing!

  6. You guys are so kind!

    I know not all writers get it wrong (a few times) before they get it right... but I'm certainly one of them!

  7. Actually, I love both those versions Hallie, which bodes well for the book. I can't wait to read this one too! And yay Hank, for the assist.

  8. Great opening, Hallie. I like sleazy Duane huffing and puffing. Sorry. I didn't get to read the first opening.

    As for the restart, it is both a dirty word and another day at the office. I hate when I have to do it and it happens more than not. But as writers we must make the story work, so it is just another day at the office. Writing is rewriting, but I do love it when a short story flows out perfectly. I’ve only had it happen twice that I can remember. LOL

  9. Restart: Just another day in the office. -- Pat Marinelli

    Here here to that.

  10. Hi Hallie -

    I like both Hank's recommendation and the way you implemented it. An outsider's view works well for this situation, and the fact that you chose the viewpoint of a photographer for the story makes sense. Duane has a reason to be there and knowledge of the world in which the events occur.

    Even the title "Photoplay" helps to evoke that time period for me. Photoplay was the first grown-up magazine I had my own subscription to back in the 6th or 7th grade.

  11. Sharon, you're reminding me that we should devote a blog to exactly that... the magazines we all used to be addicted to. Teen. Seventeen. Photoplay... back then I recognized all the young stars.

  12. Hey, they're both good. But the version you can work with will wind up being the best. Whoa, all those w's. On a funny note, my 94 year old mother started receiving Seventeen magazine out of the blue. She doesn't want it, nor do I after looking through one issue. As long as someone else pays for it!

  13. Thanks for sharing this, Hallie. The new start grabs me more--it's edgier.

    Restart-city, right here. In fact, I'm revising novel #2 and am having scary thoughts that I have the wrong villain. ARGH!

  14. Night Night, Sleep Tight is on my new books list to watch for and buy. The short story will be such a great teaser for it. I actually like both openings, but I think the newer one will give us that great photographer's eye for detail look at the whole scene. I loved the description he used at the end, Gone with the Wind meets Giant! That alone tells us that we are in for some great observation and story.

    I think it's so beneficial for writer to have close relationships with other writers, who will step in and offer constructive criticism when asked. Hank is certainly an awesome author to have in your corner.

  15. Lisa Albert: Oh, have I ever been there. My endings usually get reimagined several times before I figure out who REALLY did it, and how and why, and then I have to go back and make it all work.

  16. Kathy Reel - you got that right, I don't know what I'd do without my writer friends: Jungle Reds and BEYOND!

  17. Hallie, I liked both versions of your story although I think the edgy tone of the new opening tends to “grab” the reader a bit more.
    Perhaps restart is a good thing if it brings you to a place of satisfaction with your writing.
    In any event, I look forward to reading the book . . . .