Tuesday, January 11, 2022

What We're Writing? Hank's Re-writing.



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  I'm in the midst of editing my new book, still called 'HANK'S UNTITLED NEW BOOK.'  It will not be called Her New Best Friend, (and you heard it here first) because Her New Best Friend might sound like a sequel to Her Perfect Life. And so it goes.  

So now I am cutting, tweaking, editing. Below are snaps of real pages from the manuscript. You can see the changes.

Herewith, a scene starring the sole narrator in this single point of view psychological novel of suspense. You don't need to know more at this point.  Read his, and then, when you're finished, I have a question for you.


HANK'S NEW BOOK
  from Chapter 21

The gray metal door of Room 611 was marked FBI in peeling gray decals. Alyssa twisted the knob to open it, but it was locked. She pushed a square black button on the door jamb, heard a buzz from inside. She’d been so surprised by that—a government office should be open, shouldn’t it?—that she’d wanted to check her text reminders to make sure she had the correct place. But before she could get her phone unlocked, she’d heard footsteps inside, and then a click, and then Agent Hattie Parker stood in the opened doorway. 

“Thank you for being so punctual,” Parker said. “Come in. Agent Espinal will join us shortly.” 

 Parker might have been wearing the same black jacket and pants as yesterday, but there was not a wrinkle or a crease, and Alyssa could almost smell the starch in her pristine white shirt. 

 No receptionist. No waiting room. No thin-cushioned fifties-era couches, no stacks of old magazines on a government-issue coffee table. The door to Room 611 led directly to an office, a government-beige metal desk with a black desk pad and black phone on top; not a speck of dust, and if the room had been prepared for a private meeting. Outside the open slatted blinds of a double-wide window, the view revealed a brick and concrete pedestrian plaza. 

Beyond that, the complicated cornices and stone columns of the John Adams Building. Where, Alyssa knew, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts sat, issuing their final verdicts on defendants’ futures. The irony was not lost on her. Maybe the FBI used that view as a reminder, or a downright threat, of what could happen if their interview subjects got on the wrong side of the law. Though court should be equally concerned with protecting people. Alyssa did not feel as if anyone was protecting her now. 

 “Have a seat, Ms. Macallen.” Agent Parker had somehow set her tone as a cross between solicitous hostess and drill sergeant. She looked at her watch, a chunk of black plastic and rubber. 

 “Are we being recorded?” Alyssa’s brain screamed lawyer-lawyer-lawyer but she knew that if she did that, called in an attorney and changed the entire dynamic, she’d lose what little control she had, and this whole thing might escalate to a place she could not afford to go. 

Afford, she thought again. She’d tough this out. See what she could find out. For as long as she could. 

 “I can’t record you without your permission, Ms. Mac--may I call you Alyssa?” 

 Parker was leaning toward solicitous hostess now, Alyssa thought. But her deference rang false, obvious enough to be annoying. 

 “Of course.” Alyssa matched her insincere tone and straightened in the black and silver metal chair; its rigid square shape meant more for easy storage than for human comfort. Tried to take back a bit of control. She was guest, an invited guest, and she could leave as easily as she’d arrived. They were FBI, but that didn’t mean she had to play the victim. 

“And it’s Hattie?” Alyssa went on, not waiting for an answer. “You came to my house last night at what I fear was an inconvenient time for me. So now that I have a bit of time to focus on your inquiries, how can I help you?” 

Alyssa heard the door rattle, then the click of a lock. 

“Sorry to be delayed. Agent Parker, Ms. Macallen.” Espinal handed Parker a manila envelope, which she put on the desk without looking inside. 

 This clearly was not her office, Alyssa thought again. But whose was it? It seemed impersonal, with no files or book-filled shelves, no stacks of papers, no personal knickknacks or weary yellowing plants lined up along the windowsill. She sneaked a peek into the upper right corner of the room, then the left, but didn’t see any cameras. 

“There are no cameras here, Ma’am,” Parker said. 

 “There’s no nothing here,” Alyssa said, trying to sound amused. “Is the FBI having money problems?” 

She heard an almost-laugh from Espinal. He’d stationed himself in front of the door, which made it awkward for her, since she could only look at one of them at a time. While they could both see her.  And it blocked her exit.

 She wondered if this was tactics, or simply too many people in a too-small room. Or maybe that was tactics, too. And they were taking long enough to get to the point. 

“As always,” Espinal said. “Most of our offices moved to Chelsea, as you might know. But we’ve kept a few satellite offices here, just for convenience. Proximity to the courthouse. And privacy. But Uncle Sam did not provide us much of a budget line item for decorating.”

 “Ah.” That made sense, Alyssa supposed. She looked at her own watch, not trying to hide her movement. 

 “We won’t be long, “ Espinal said. 

 “We hope,” Parker added. 

“We just have a few questions.” 

“And we hope you can help us.”

 It was like watching a tennis match to keep up with them. And without knowing which of the agents was in charge, it was difficult for Alyssa to avoid it.

HANK: Okay? How about that scene? Is there conflict? Sure. Tension? Sure. A decision in process? Sure. Stakes? You'd know them if you read what comes before.

Will you read this scene in HANK'S NEW UNTITLED BOOK? Nope. Like 19,000 other words, I cut the entire thing.

Boom. Gone.

Okay. Here's the deal. 

I ask myself every time: What work does this scene do? Hmm. 

We already know the FBI has talked to Alyssa--we were in that scene the day before. We have set up they are in a contentious cat and mouse situation. 

So...distilling what we actually learn in this scene: The FBI office is not what Alyssa expected. She doesn't want to be there, but she wonders what they're up to. She's worried about exactly what the agents think they know. And she is trying to take control of the situation.

So. What action do we have here: PROCESS.

And: We already know the things we get from this scene.

As a result: Gone. A scene you will never read in a book. 

And I was delighted to cut it.

Welcome to writing.

Reds and Readers, what do you think?

48 comments:

  1. Well, I have to admit that I enjoyed reading about Alyssa's meeting with the FBI agents. But if it is a scene that doesn't work for the book, then I understand why you'd delete it. But now I'm anxious to see what happened in the story that caused you to decide to delete this scene . . . .

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    1. Well, I liked this scene, actually. It allows Alyssa to toughen up a bit, and show her stuff. But if 19,000 words HAD to go :-0 ...maybe we wouldn't miss this.

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  2. I hate repetitious scenes. I also hate scenes that don't advance the story because they are telling us something we already know. ;) I'm glad to see you recognizing that and deleting this scene, as hard as it might have been for you.

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    1. Well, it wasn't hard as soon as I knew I had to cut 29,00 words! SO that's when the inner editor kicks in.

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    2. Always easier to cut repetition when you know you have lots of words you need to cut. That's a nice problem to have, isn't it?

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  3. Wow. I write so sparse, I rarely have to cut chunks. It sounds like you have your reasons for cutting this one. But then you have to make sure all of its essence is found elsewhere, right? I hope you can use the tennis match visual somewhere - it's so vivid.

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  4. HANK: I know you enjoy cutting scenes/chunks of your WIP, so yay! I don't like reading books with a lot of filler, or what I think of as unnecessary scenes/background, so I understand your reasoning. I agree that the scene in the FBI office does not add very much, and there was not a lot of tension, conflict or movement foward. Carry on with your edits, and good luck with coming up with the new title.

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    1. Well, thank you! As it turns out, as in so many of my scenes :-) this one isn't what it seems! And the value of it-that Alyssa is nervous, and trying to get her equilibrium and show he agents she's not a pushover--I just put it elsewhere. And I couldn't have finished the book without writing it, you know? Part of it is me getting to where I need to go.

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    2. HANK: This process has worked for you, so yay, please keeping doing what you do.
      xoxo

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  5. Everyone else seems fine, but now I am burning to know what is going on! You've told us many times that you write way more than necessary and then cut, cut, cut to get your clean manuscript. But Hank, could you please send me the rest of the outtakes? I think there is a story there!

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    1. JUDY: 19,000 cut words could definitely be a separate story!

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    2. HA! No way. xoxo They aren't really cohesive things. I guess I cut three whole chapters, thinking back. But truly, they won't help you..xoxo

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  6. It was a good scene, but it looks like you didn't really need it. You know how we have bloopers TV shows, maybe we should have "cut out" scenes type of book.

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    1. Thank you! Yes, if he book could have been longer, which it couldn't but jus say..this is a perfectly good scene, and I liked it! I was just not essential. That's a good way to describe it. Not ESSENTIAL. And everything in my books should be essential. xx

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  7. Hank, I'm just thinking you could write a whole other book with just the stuff you edited out. What a process!

    I've mentioned before that our dear neighbors are both musicians. Lise, who was a concert pianist, and who taught piano and conducting at University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. So, a pro. She once told me she could write an entire symphony from just the wrong notes she'd played.

    Thanks for the peek at Alyssa and her mysterious conundrum!

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    1. HA! Everything I cut is a learning experience, hat's for sure. Bu I have no sash of "cut" scenes. They were a way for me to get here I was going, but in the end, they ruined the pacing. Well, gummed it up, at least! xx

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  8. Hank, you're so smart, and ruthless! It would pain me deeply to cut that many words, though your reasoning is unimpeachable!

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    1. awww. But it makes me happy, really, to realize how much better the book is without it. It's a perfectly good scene! But I'd rather have the BOOK be perfect. xoxoo

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  9. What a great illustration of the re/writing process, Hank. A master class for this student.

    I love the idea from others of an 'out take' or 'deleted scenes' book. That would be a lot of fun -- maybe a patchwork of cuts and edits from a bunch of books.

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    1. I would be instructive, that's for sure! And each author would have to tell the reason they cut it. Love!

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  10. I like that, Hank. What purpose does the scene serve? And, poof, gone! You're getting the hang of this writing stuff, huh? So stop worrying so much, okay? XXOO

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    1. Thank you, dear friend! It's truly day by day, that's for sure. xxx

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  11. Hank, I'm right there with you. I'm doing final revisions on the book that's due in a month and slashing stuff left and right. I either don't need it or it doesn't fit with a new direction I'm taking with a subplot. Hard work, but kind of freeing.

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    1. SO agree! You cut, girl! xxxx Take away everything that isn't the book.

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  12. It's a great scene, but if she's already been interviewed by the FBI, repetitive. A good lesson for me!

    I've always wondered what it's like to be trapped in an interview room with law enforcement. And I also wondered if the whole thing was an off-the-books set up.

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    1. Well, this is when they tell her--you come to our office and talk or else. And she's so worried and nervous that she goes to find out what they know. They're agents, all right, and they DO know things. And she wishes they didn't. And yes, she's trapped, and pretending she isn't. Which is the WHOLE theme of the book. :-)

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    2. Thank you! And they are definitely agents, and she is terrified and worried and wants to know what they think they know. They told her the day before--come to our office OR ELSE. SO, there she is. And yes, she is trapped, but trying to pretend she isn't. Which is the theme of the WHOLE book! But....

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  13. Loved reading the scene, but it is the author who knows best what has and will happen and how it plays into the story dynamic. Looking forward to reading Hank's untitled.

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    1. Aww..thank you! It's really fun--like a reverse treasure hunt! xxx

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  14. I liked the set-up of the interview but if you felt the need to cut it, well, it is your book, right? My question is this: what you cut is just part of the chapter, isn't it?

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    1. Thank you! (I liked it, too...) And yes, just part of it. But I cut the rest of it, too! xxx

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  15. Brave cutting, Hank, because it was a good scene. But it’s good to ask ourselves ‘why is this scene here?’ For every scene in the book. If there is no good answer it goes!

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    1. Exactly! And thank you. I am pretty proud of myself, I have to say…

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  16. Hank, I think it's a great scene, and I can absolutely see why you cut it. I often do the same thing when writing - I include every aspect of a conflict scene from driving up to the door through to leaving the building. And then a HUGE hunk of it gets cut when I'm editing. If only we could skip writing all the parts we're not going to use in the final version! But my brain doesn't work that way, and I suspect your doesn't either.

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    1. Exactly. One thing I have learned is that sometimes I need to figure out how to get somewhere, so I jus write it. And I am SO with you about from the beginning to the end..but hen you decide which is the very best and most necessary part.

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  17. Such a great scene but your reasoning sound. I'm already invested int he characters just by this snippet so I can't wait to read a scene that will actually be in the book! Well sone!

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    1. Aww..thank you! And yes, I wonder if Alyssa will stay ALyssa. She has had so many names....:-(

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  18. So interesting, Hank! I kept wondering if they were really FBI agents and it that was a real FBI office. Now I want to know what happens next!

    And I'd love to have a spare 19,000 words to cut...

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  19. What do I think? Just from the snippet you cut I think I need to read your book!

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  20. I have to say that I'm disappointed to know this scene was cut. I find the whole interrogation process interesting, like a game of chess where if you're not attentive, the results can be catastrophic. I'm reading a book now where there's lots of this interviewing going on, and I'm realizing just how important it is to give short, non-expansive answers. I like the way you described the different voices Agent Parker took on, such as "her tone as a cross between solicitous hostess and drill sergeant" and "Parker was leaning toward solicitous hostess now." And, even the positioning of the two agents in the room intended to unbalance the interviewee is fascinating to me. Oh well, I know the rest of your writing and story will be as fascinating, so I can probably get over you cutting this scene. I do know that I'm really looking forward to this book.

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    1. YAY! And thank you, I love that stuff, too. And there will be jus enough of it, crossing fingers. xoxooo YOu will be among the first to know, of course!

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  21. And now you are all the first to know: I am about to take out AN ENTIRE CHARACTER! Ahhhhhh!
    ! I cannot wait to see if this works.

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  22. Your editor hat brings out a ruthless streak. I am so glad. It is irritating to be brought out of a story by the voice in my head that says "Yeah, I got that the first time."

    Editing is like bathing. You just need to scrape off all the detritus no matter how much fun it was to accumulate. You're left with something nicely exfoliated, fresh, ready to go again.

    It will be fun to read this book knowing a bit of what has been left out.

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    1. Oh, so lovely to hear from you! We were all so touched by your comment yesterday, and Hallie especially wanted to connect. Can you tell us how to find you? Or email me at hryan@whdh.com.

      And yes, I am reading a book now that's perfectly great, but from time to time I yell at it: I KNOW THAT ALREADY! Or as my editor says : REP.

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    2. I have sent an email to you.

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