Monday, June 30, 2014

Some Thoughts on Revision

When I talk about revision with writing classes and writing students, it's often a great eye-opener for novices to learn that real revision has very little to do with copy edits, i.e. -- proofreading punctuation, spelling, grammar, etc. Real revision is the often very emotionally wrenching business of digging in and finding where and why a novel isn't quite working the way it needs to: Does the story start in the right place? Is the POV character the correct voice to narrate? Is the pacing working? Do the minor characters all serve a significant function? Is (to quote my agent Jen Rofe, who does some marvelous workshops on this), the 'so what factor' strong enough? That is, are the stakes high enough? Does everything that happens matter? Is the mc's emotional arc clear and strong? And a million other questions and issues that force writers to poke and prod at their work and make sure the story isn't hidden.

Case in point-- the new project I'm working on. I'm not going to reveal the specific details of the characters and plot here; I'm too superstitious to do that before it has any 'official' book status. But what I can say is that I've had this story idea for awhile now, simmering in the background while I worked on FINDING PARIS and the various edits for THE A-WORD (out now!) and dug into IT WASN'T ALWAYS LIKE THIS (which you'll see in 2016 but I will finish by the end of the year). But eventually the time was right and I settled in to write synopsis and sample chapters and basically get a proposal ready.

And while the story was working, and I really loved it, and early readers really loved it, something nagged at me that I had hidden the real story under a plot that was possibly more complicated than it needed to be. And that if I was willing to keep the basic characters and inciting incident but start over and take it in a slightly different direction, the real story would appear. And it would be stronger and tighter and the emotional essence would shine. And hopefully, we'd all get goosebumps up and down our arms as we read, which would mean that I'd nailed the journey the characters had to take and made it real and solid and true.

Which, let me say, is easier said than done. Because once you've gotten used to seeing something one way, envisioning it another way is hard work. And there is always the fear that you will tinker so much that you will end up with a pile of mush and the slithery idea will slither away, as ideas sometimes do. (The muse is a tricky thing. You can over think it into hiding. Your really can.)

But what I think right now is that I have found my story-- the same but different and a whole lot better for the scary risk of doing 'surgery' on something that would have always been good but now has the chance of being really great, of making its truth shinier than it would have been before.

I'll let you know how it goes.
But I think I'm on to something.

1 comment:

Hannah J said...

"The muse is a tricky thing. You can over-think it into hiding. You really can." Something I have been experiencing recently. Hopefully your post will help me free it a little bit. Plotting is hard :(
You need to stop tormenting me with tidbits about new ideas that I can't read yet! That's just mean. It's like showing me an entire eight-layer chocolate fudge cake and then taking it away after a spoonful. Just mean. (But I still love reading it, because I'm a masochist. I must be. Why else would I adore watching Titanic over and over and over again?)