|Annals of Revision (again)
||[Nov. 15th, 2011|03:08 pm]
You might think that someone who's written 20+ books could write a book front to back, all in one piece, with no mistakes, the way my mother (for instance) could sew garments (even design them) and not have to rip out or add on. You might be right for some other writer of 20+ books, but not...alas...for me. Or for most of the writers I know, even the ones who are gifted enough to outline before they write. At the end of months of first-drafting, what I have is a big shaggy mess of a thing. Some parts are really good. Some parts might be good if they were in the right place (they're not), trimmed up a little, given a spit shine on the now dull surface. Other parts...well, there are days when the writing sags, along with energy, and what comes out is...well again...dull, stale, flat and unprofitable.
If I could write the story perfectly the first time, just churn or reel it out, I surely would. But I can't. So instead, I spend a month or several in a state familiar to many writers, alternately wondering why I ever thought this was a good idea, thinking the story can't be salvaged, and then rounding up the stray bits and getting them in order, like a sheepdog with a flock to move somewhere...and running the story through all the gates, fast, to be sure it works. In the end it always does. In the end I'm always eating too much chocolate, failing to get out of pajamas until after noon, staying up way beyond midnight, and then (once it's sent off) discovering some embarrassing problem still left in it.
Right now I'm in mid-revision mode. The Chainsaw of Correction has been applied to the deadwood: the dull, the slow, the fascinating-to-me-but-no-one-else artistically lacy (but dead) limbs. 99% of what's left is plotworthy and much of it has been trimmed up and polished. But not all. I've spent the morning messing about a scene that won't go away and yet doesn't work right. I can't see why. I went away from it for a couple of hours and finished processing the lamb stock, then started a curry. I still can't see why the scene is sitting there, a large lump of indigestible sentences, and won't either be taken out or shake itself into a flowing scene with adequate tension. Even I can see it's not 24k gold studded with rubies...so it's not a "darling" in the sense of "kill your darlings." It's a lump. I've looked at it front to back, and back to front, and starting in the middle looking both ways for its nugget of plotworthiness that saves it from the CofC, and it feels like there's a nugget in there...but I can't locate it. It's been bugging me for days, as I worked on other things--I'd come back, read it again, scowl again, and go work on something easier. Many other chapters have benefited from my inability to get this scene to budge. But now they're as far along as they can be until I solve this one. Whatever I do here will have effects on what comes after; I can't do the top level revisions on following chapters without knowing where this one is structurally.
Tinkering isn't getting the job done. Moving sentences around, starting the conversations differently, reversing sentence or paragraph order...no. Been there, done that (and other tricks) and there it sits, like a sodden blob of cold oatmeal. Unsalted, unsweetened....does it mean I've lost it? The writing ability's fled? Inspiration evaporated? Talent sucked down the rathole? I don't know. I look at the scene. The scene doesn't even look back. I've interrogated the characters...they're not interested in my problems.
And of course this writing here is procrastination. I should be working on it, but here I am writing a post in LJ instead. And yet, writing about how impossible it is, there's a tiny--very tiny--twitch in the writing brain. As I describe it, I begin to see metaphorically what's wrong. "Lump" and "indigestible" and "unsalted and unsweetened." Can I figure out what that means in terms of the people interacting in that scene, the emotional setting and development of that scene? Are they, like a lump of cold oatmeal without salt or honey, the same all the way through and at the end as at the beginning? Are they all one mood, one tone, throughout? It is...when I think about it that way...a fairly quiet scene, with two people who know each other well discussing something fairly abstract that may happen somewhere else in terms of what did happen in another somewhere else. Sitting down. Just talking. Characters familiar to readers of these books, so I can't claim any great revelation of character. Not angry, not at odds, not excited, not sad....just sitting there talking calmly. For rather a long time, in fact. No salt. No honey. No variation in flavor....well. There we are, then. The single nugget of plotworthiness, now I think about it, is diffused one or two words at a time across the whole conversation. Five tiny grains of salt in the whole large lump, barely perceptible to the tastebuds. If I couldn't find it, neither would most readers.
Sometimes procrastination is a useful tool in revision. And now, back to the scene. A and B, you have one thing to pass between you, and that's it. And you have to realize its importance, react to it, shift a little...No. I'll insist they shift a lot...when I think of the previous scene, in a different POV in a different place, this one needs to start off with enough punch to pull readers away from the one before. DUH. How could I forget that? Changes of viewpoint are major transitions and readers need to be firmly attached to the new one right from the first words. The writer brain rolls over and sits up. Pulls on jeans and a shirt (never mind what the writer brain's body is wearing) and dials up the word generator.