The Shadow Tracer is now out around the world. The cover is bright and shiny, and I hope that the prose and the story are too. But the book didn’t start out that way. As always, the first draft was plug ugly: fat, bland, overwritten, superficial, and confusing.
Today I found the revision checklist that I sent to my editor along with that first draft. For a peek into how I revise, have a look at what I thought about the novel nearly a year before it first hit the bookshelves.
I’ve redacted a few plot points to avoid spoilers. And you’ll notice one big thing: my working title for the novel was not The Shadow Tracer.
Here are my first thoughts on revising the rough draft of Untraceable:
1. Cut the word count; clear out all the underbrush and get rid of missteps and dead ends; straighten out all the plot lines that (obviously) were being worked out in my own mind as I wrote the draft — get rid of duplication, reorganize the action to maximize revealing plot points (e.g. that the dead FBI agent XXXX; revelation that Sarah XXXX). Either develop half-formed ideas or cut them.
2. Dramatically improve the characterization of the major players — dialogue, personality, behavior, the whole shebang.
3. Clarify the personalities of the antagonists (primarily the trio — Grissom, Reavy, and Fell) and their goals, plus the conflicts that develop among them.
4. Develop (and clarify!) the relationship between Sarah Keller and Michael Lawless — make it tentative and fraught with uncertainty at the beginning, though they both respect and doubt each other — then strengthen it throughout the story, till XXXX by the end.
5. Get rid of the half-developed idea that Zoe has second sight — pull it back so she’s really just an unusually observant, perceptive child, who sees things the adults don’t understand — it’s not in any way paranormal, but it is on the edge of eerie.
6. Clarify Lawless’s role in Sarah’s current attempt to escape — how much is official U.S. Marshal business, how much is his own initiative.
7. Reduce the number of points of view: restrict them (except for brief and necessary exceptions) to Sarah, Lawless, Harker, Fell, and Danisha.
8. Figure out whether there are enough twists at the end!
Readers: You’ll have to tell me if you think I followed my own advice.