Fancy This, I’ve Learned a Few Things

Posted by on Sep 11, 2008 in Writing | 2 comments

Today I revised 11 pages for most of the day. I love the revision process, but this felt like an excessive amount of time to spend on prose that I had previously honed and polished and edited and revised and fine-tuned to “perfection.”

I decided to take a look at my first novel — formerly known as “the practice novel” — after I received the Dear John letter from my agent about Novel #2, the project she hadn’t succeeded in selling. Why not revise Novel #1? I asked myself. Maybe my agent will dig it…Worth a try, right?

I’m amazed at how much I’ve grown as a writer since I set this novel aside six years ago. I have a few skills under my belt now! In particular, four flaws are obvious that eluded me previously:

1. I refined the prose so well that it lacks verve, voice, life. Flat-city. The story features a first-person narrator, and I find myself adding words to strengthen her voice.

LESSON: There is such a thing as polishing the life out of my prose.

2. The plot flows, yet it also reads muddled – and for a very simple reason: Faulty scene and chapter breaks. I didn’t have a concept of this at the time, but scenes/chapters require arcs. Instead, I’ve got overly long chapters in which the significant plot points and character moments get lost.

LESSON: White space is a good thing.

3. This is a corollary to item #1: In my attempt to cut every excess word, I inadvertently created ambiguities. It’s not always obvious what’s going on — especially with character motivation — because I made the mistake of, for example, assuming readers would remember some little thing I’d mentioned many pages previously or connect the dots themselves. The key words for me are “seamless flow.”

LESSON: Repetition and explanation are allowed to keep the readers happily oriented.

4. I’ve also noted spots where I dilute suspense by revealing information sooner than necessary, usually through blah-di-blah dialogue. Apparently, I only understood suspense in theory, not in practice.

LESSON: Premature revelation is so anticlimactic.

For all I pared, there’s excess yet to cut; for all I developed and explained, there’s holes yet to be filled. Between the cutting and the adding, I predict I’ll end up with about the same word count. Funny how that works.

2 Comments

  1. Excellent lessons you share here- must remember. I am such a minimalist (tho’ NOT in my blog unfortunately) that I’m wondering if I have pared the life out of several passages. Especially when in a rush to get something “finished.”

  2. It’s amazing how different a manuscript looks when you go back to is after a period of time – especially the first one. I have 265 pages worth of a first novel that is sitting in a box. I know it is a disjointed mess, but I’m going to go back and see what I can do with it after I finish my current manuscript. I’m almost afraid to go back and see what my writing looked like at that point.

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