I once heard an editor say that every revision should have a purpose. While this may not work for every writer, focusing on a specific problem can tame the seemingly overwhelming task of revising rough drafts.
The purpose of the first draft is Getting the Story Down.
For my WIP, the second draft is the Logic Draft. Before I started writing, I outlined the novel in detail, but I deviated from the plan and introduced a few subplots near the end. These changes had to be set up early in the story for them to make sense.
The third draft is the Page Turner Draft in which I slash and burn the boring stuff. I make sure my subplots overlap so that when one resolves, there are still plenty of things to worry about.
The fourth draft will be the Voice Draft. This is simply a page by page analysis to make sure all characters stay in character.
This book is less like taking a vacation than moving to Botswana and setting up shop amid the dust, sweltering heat and fierce beauty of the land. You’ll drink innumerable cups of bush tea and become accustomed to a slower pace of life. You’ll learn not to get on the wrong side of witch doctors and when searching for missing persons, you’ll remember to check if leopards or crocodiles are in the area. Although the book is a quick read, this is not a short vacation. Be prepared to settle in.
“When you see these hills from a distance, they are blue; as all the distances in this country are. We are far from the sea here, with Angola and Namibia between us and the coast, and yet we have this great empty ocean of blue above us and around us. No sailor could be lonelier than a man standing in the middle of our land, with the miles and miles of blue about him.”
Our summer vacation seems to be a non-starter this year, so, I thought I’d share snapshots of my recent literary travels. These trips are free from the library, no vaccinations or passports are required, and some include time travel bonuses.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience a monsoon, visit a desert oasis, see the River Ganges or rescue a princess, read Tiger Moon. One review (writing with a broken tusk) quibbles with cultural, geographical and historical aspects of the novel, and I admit I’m not qualified to judge these topics. That aside, this mini-vacation includes the opportunity to ride a white tiger, an experience unavailable on many costlier tours.
"How does a story of India begin? Does it begin with the three rivers the Ganges, the Yamuna, the unseen Sarasvati pouring her dreaming waters down from the snowy mountains to the hot, dry plain?"
One of my facebook friends mentioned a website that analyzes word choice to predict if a text sample was written by a man or a woman. Since my WIP has a male protagonist, I was eager to try. I pasted the first 300 words into the box and got weak female. Okay, that was disappointing, but the project still needs work, so I checked the first 300 words of TAoCBS (male protagonist) and got weak male. Better. Third time’s the charm. I pasted in 300 words of CBL (female protagonist) and again got weak female. Phooey.
As a former scientist I felt compelled to test the system. I tried a couple posts from this blog and got male. Uh oh. Then I pasted in several posts from other people’s blogs, and they all came out male – no matter who wrote them.
Fiction is different than blogging, so I have a favor to ask. Will you test 300 or so words of your fiction here and post the results in comments? Just say whether your protagonist is male or female and if the gender guesser agreed. Thanks.
(I’m secretly hoping the results will be meaningless.)
This YA novel traces the stories three generations of women/girls in a dysfunctional family. For reviews, see Frenetic Reader and goodreads.
Blue Plate Special is a fascinating study of voice. The story is told in three first person points of view and the three voices remain distinct throughout the novel. None of the voices is particularly eccentric, yet they do not merge or mimic one another. Michele Kwasney excels at keeping each character’s personality true.
Writers are often told it is difficult to sustain an unconventional (quirky, sarcastic, humorous, regional, ultra-intellectual) voice all the way through a novel. Maintaining three separate but equal voices must also present interesting challenges. I recommend this book to writers who are striving to perfect their character’s voices.
Starting round two of novel revisions is like buying a fixer upper. The first step is deciding if the project has potential. Is that lovely view worth the time and effort required to make the house beautiful? Is the concept behind the novel strong enough to raise a meandering tome out of the slush?
The second step is deciding where to start. Probably everyone can agree that the avocado shag carpet or the last scene in chapter 18 have to go, but they may not be the most pressing problems.
Next a plan is required. Before I start reconstruction, I need to know which walls are load-bearing and if pipes and wires are hidden inside them. If I eliminate that subplot, does my antagonist’s character arc fall flat? Are there other places to put those wires, pipes and character developing scenes?
For the time being, I’ll focus on removing enough clutter so the structure is visible. When it’s time to go in with the sledge hammer, I’ll know what to do. The project seems daunting. As the proud new owners of a bargain property once told me, “Every surface of every room needs repair.”
On Saturday I attended the SCBWI-MI 2010 Spring Conference, The Tortoise and the Hare: Journey to the Finish Line. There was a star-studded line-up, and the conference was packed with useful information about writing and illustrating.
I was reminded of ideas that had been put aside while I struggled with writing or revising, and the speakers organized information in a way that made it fresh. Here are the pearls of wisdom I gathered.
Jay Asher explained how to build suspense by creating overlapping subplots, so that when one problem is resolved, other issues remain to keep the reader turning pages.
Beth Fleisher advocated mapping arcs for plot, character, emotional development and setting.
Ruta Rimas discussed analyzing a manuscript word by word, at the level of sentences and by paragraph.
Donna Gephart suggested we fill in the blanks in this sentence for our protagonists: I’ll do anything to ___, just don’t ask me to ___.
It was an action-packed day, and unfortunately I didn’t get to hear all of the speakers.