If you’ve ever skimmed through your flat first draft and felt as if it needed more depth to come alive, then you’ll relate to this Behind the Rewrite post from author JL Peridot. Below, she discusses rewriting her sci-fi romance novel It Starts With A Kiss.
JL Peridot’s Behind The Rewrite
I hate first drafting. But I love having a first draft. And while going over rough work can be tedious at times, the rewrite stage is where you get to really express your creativity and skill as a storyteller.
To date, my most popular book, It Starts With A Kiss (“Kiss”), is the one I enjoyed drafting the least. It took four rounds of reboots to turn it into a piece of work I was comfortable sending out.
Oh, gosh, my rewrites… Let me show you them.
1. Shaping Realistic Characters
Using archetypes can speed up the first draft process, because we’re so used to seeing them in fiction and the “economy of thought” saves us from getting bogged down by details early on. But these exaggerated personality profiles are just that—profiles. And depending on the kind of story you’re telling, they may hinder your ability to write characters that people can relate to.
Where this stuck out for me was when Celeste stood at the door to Eleanor’s quarters, deciding whether or not to knock. It was too easy to portray a “blameless protagonist”, free of vice and vitriol. But Celeste isn’t like that. She’s independent and strong-willed. And I needed to show her talking about Eleanor as well as to her in the earlier chapters, so not only does it make sense why she made that decision at the door, but the truth of her whole character emerges as well.
2. Writing Natural Dialogue
Once I connected my plot points together, I spent a lot of time fixing the dialogue. Workplace banter is easy if you’ve ever been mates with your colleagues. All you have to do is pay attention to what gets said and take note of the non-verbal stuff too, like tone of voice, facial expression and body language.
So, when re-written Owen mashes his hand into Celeste’s face, you can tell it’s because they’ve been friends long enough for that to be okay. When re-written Laks bosses everyone around in the function room, you know it’s different to when Eleanor does it. It’s evident in what she says, how she says it and, most importantly, how everyone else responds to it.
If you don’t have personal “banter” to inspire your dialogue in certain scenes, look for movies, TV shows and reality shows that match the genres, characters, setting, pacing or vibe of your story. In addition to my own workplace friendships, I referenced my friends, family and in-laws for specific social dynamics (such as Bettina’s dynamic with Dave), and Fresh Meat for how a diverse cast of characters could bounce off each other in a story-driven setting.
3. Fixing The Tone Of Voice
Even though “Kiss” was always intended to be a romantic comedy, the first draft prose was much too saccharine, taking away from the dramatic encounters and ruining the chances of emotionally connecting with the reader. Fixing this meant getting into the right mood to write in a particular tone of voice. My solution was soundtrack. Not just “a writing playlist”, but a playlist specific to the story and its unique setting. Other writers may only need to turn the lights down, or write only at certain times of day. Every writer will have different sensory needs for getting into the zone of a particular story, if not getting into the zone of writing anything at all.
4. Not Shying Away From Science
The first version of “Kiss” had far less of the nerdy stuff. At the time, I was trying to emulate the contemporary stories I’d immersed myself in, ones with broader appeal that stuck with general language. And it failed.
What makes a romance special is its characters. It Starts With A Kiss is a story about two engineers who came together through their work on a futuristic space station. The technical stuff comes part and parcel with who they are and the choices they’d made leading up to the start of the book.
So when re-written Celeste rambles about technical details, it’s because that’s what she sees when she looks at the world. As far as she’s concerned, this is the situation she’s dealing with, even if non-technical folk gloss over it or decide it’s nonsense because they don’t understand it. This is just who she is, and just who many of my sources of inspiration for her character are.
5. Building The Wider Universe
All of my stories are contained within their own worlds, but most of these worlds belong to a greater milieu with a timeline and interconnected events. “Kiss” is my third Alliance Worlds release, but the first event in the timeline. And this isn’t in any way relevant to the story.
So how do you pull off large-scale worldbuilding in such a way that it’s enriched by your existing lore while also contributing to the wider universe, when it has nothing to do with what your book is about? You drop hints.
For example, towards the end of “Kiss”, when Eleanor has her big spiel, I could have let her allude to other companies as an abstract concept. It does just as good a job at getting her harsh point across, if that’s all we needed to do. But in the final published version of the book, Elle named a specific company that’s tied to the wider universe. This serves the added functions of strengthening her character through dialogue, and giving familiar readers a richer experience of this story and all the other stories.
These particular revisions ended up breathing life into a manuscript I was on the verge of giving up on. Of course, I look back and wonder if I could do a better job of it with the gift of hindsight and these extra months’ worth of learning. I’d like to hope so, but may never find out. There are too many other stories still to tell.
This post covers the summary of this rewrite. Visit JL’s blog for the full deep-dive.
Want To Read The Book?
It Starts With A Kiss – Celeste is a talented engineer who doesn’t realize her job’s going nowhere fast. She’s a little naïve. She’ll cut code and solder cables forever as long as Owen’s around. Owen, on the other hand, knows exactly how badly things suck—he just doesn’t care. Sure, his skills aren’t what they used to be, but they’re still better than what Halcyon Aries deserves. Then it happens. The company’s toxic management team finally crosses the line. As both techies race to upgrade the station and to free the team from their oppressive contracts, they come to learn that life—and love—can only ever be what you make it.
Strap in for a steamy office romance in space, because sometimes It Starts With a Kiss!
More About JL Peridot
JL Peridot writes sexy love stories and more instead of using Arduino kit she insisted on buying when the conversion rate was slightly better. Her latest book, “It Starts With A Kiss”, is a nerdy, sci-fi office romance—a little HEA for her fellow ladies in tech. Right now, she’s working on a futuristic romantic suspense novel, washing her hands, and playing a lot of video games.
Subscribe to JL’s mailing list for periodic updates, teasers, free reads and banter.
Opportunities For Writers
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Shortcuts for Writers: Editing Made Simple Facebook group – Download the guide, 7 Simple Steps to Nailing Your Book Blurb in Unit 1.
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Stacy Juba, the founder of Shortcuts for Writers, is a freelance editor and online course creator who teaches authors how to simplify the self-editing process and fit their writing goals into a busy life. Her books include the Storybook Valley chick lit series and the Hockey Rivals young adult sports novels.
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