Tuesday, May 05, 2009

thought stream of revision

{or, some of the junk that goes through my mind}

One of the things I try to do each time I'm working on revisions is give myself the time to re-read the current draft before diving in, especially if it's been a while. It's always great to have writing work that *feels* like writing, but the main reason for this is so that I can spend some time (re)remembering what I wanted to write about in the first place. Usually I'll try to get all the way through without listening to the editor in my head, but when I do let the editor's voice shine, it tends to go something like this:

1. weak beginning...OMG, takes two pages to get to the meat of the story! no bueno!
2. do we have a pretty good sense of who the protagonist is and what he wants by page 2, at the latest? why not?
3. what is the particular problem in this story? is that clear to readers? {usually, in an early draft, the answer is NO}
4. is the landscape clear? {not only the physical landscape/geography, but the other characters that help my MC define himself}
5. insert time-honored/exhausted workshop tropes. pick your favorite, which may include what's at stake? there's not enough tension in this piece. the dialogue/characters is/are flat. and you haven't earned the ending.
6. remember the things that are your weakness. for me, it's an overuse of exposition. which sucks, because I like a lot of exposition, and I'm willing to put up with a lot of it if the writing is good. however, exposition for its own sake is no longer popular in today's literary fiction...and who am I, just another writer, right? right.
7. remember that you are standing in your own way: that your pride, or your adoration for minor character #7 (the one with the harelip and the broken umbrella), or your determination that you know exactly what the piece is about, or your brilliant wit in paragraphs 3-5...if you are going to have a finished, polished piece, most of the things you love will die or mutate.
8. get real quiet and listen.

last night i learned that i totally forgot to convert one page from first to third person, so, sorry brooke, don't be confused when you read the excerpt i sent you. i learned that there's not as much exposition (yes!) as i remembered and nearly no backstory (double yes!), that my characters are still sickly thin, that the madcap caper tone of the chapter isn't being read through the agonizing level of detail i invested trying to make the plot believable, and that what will make the plot more believable is rounded characters stuck in a conflict.

who, what, where, when, why? and why now? i try to be kind on a first raft. i don't have high expectations. and when i'm going through this process, i'm certainly not doing it with a little checklist beside me. to date i've spent, oh, 6-8 years workshopping pieces? i know how to ask these questions, whether it's about your piece or mine. to know what to change, you need to make a series of quick, frequently subconscious decisions. it's wrong because it is. the dialogue reads awkwardly, and when you say it aloud you'll hear. we know when something doesn't sound right because most of us have been reading for what feels like forever.

that, when you think about it, is pretty significant. what else have we been doing all our conscious lives, other than eating, sleeping, losing our tempers, and discovering things to love and find beautiful? ok, and watching television. play kitchens turned into real ones, stuffed animals became pets, and the other games of childhood fell away unless we play them with our children or other people's. i'll stop now before this gets too fever pitch {the movie, not the novel...i actually can't stand nick hornby. sox win, btw!} but consider the implications...what sort of people still care about the same things they did when they were 7?

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