Friday, June 06, 2008

More Revision-think

This business of writing books is still pretty new to me as I revise my third one. I am still learning how, and I'm beginning to be able to sort of put into words the things I'm striving for. Sort of. In my last post on revising, I said a lot of the process of revisions for me is "sharpening the story like a pencil." And that is true. That is one way of looking at what I am doing. Today I had another thought, and a new metaphor.

It's that I want the story to be like a strand of diamonds.

What I mean by that is that I want the book, which is an adventure book for middle-grade through adult readers, to move from one sharp and glittering moment to the next. I don't want it to be meandering and muzzy, stretched out and fuzzy. I want it to pass quickly from one distinct moment to the next, each scene a diamond, strung up against another diamond, and so on. I want to carve those scenes into their own individual perfect little entities, each leading into the next like diamonds on a strand. Does that make sense?

In practice, in revisions, it means a lot of cutting and carving. The chunk of the book I'm working on revising now is three chapters which, taken as a whole, represent a sort of mid-way climax to the book. (Is there a technical term for that?) It's not the climax, but it's about halfway, and it's a series of linked events in which suddenly, everything changes for the main characters in a dramatic way. Taken together, those three chapters are nearly 9000 words long. Too long! The sharp point of them is dulled to a kind of meandering muzziness, not just because of the length, but because of course when you first write something (and often, the second and third time too), you don't know how to "cut" them -- as diamonds are cut, that is, to bring out their brilliance.

It's only since I finished the book that I really know the place of these scenes in it, so that now I am able to polish them up to do just what they need to do, in as sharp and compact and shining a way possible. Carve away that muzzy feeling, sharpen it all. The "diamond" idea helps me visualize the flow of the book -- the way I want it to feel: in each scene a new dramatic thing coming fast on the heels of the last, each thing having its own cool "nuggetness" and solidity and shimmer. Cool thing after cool thing. Each "moment," each scene in succession, brainstormed thoroughly to make sure I've come up with the best possible way to have it happen, the "coolest" way it might unfold. And, the "coolest" way to tie them all together, because after all they are not loose diamonds sitting on black velvet for individual inspection. They are a strand.

So, there are some of my current revision thoughts. It is helping me to think of the book as a series of important & interesting moments -- and to work to cut out anything that is muddying up the purity and flow of those moments, bogging them down. Sometimes as I'm writing -- as my plots tend to be fairly complex -- I'll find that I have to have X and Y happen in order to pave the way for Z, which is what I really need to have happen. But, horrors! X and Y are kind of boring! But I need them, or Z won't happen! What to do? Figure out a way around X and Y. Get rid of em! Streamline. Sharpen. It's not always easy to come up with the way to streamline, but usually there is a way.

Remember: "I haven't failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." (Thomas Edison)

7 comments:

a cat of impossible colour said...

I'm just about to start revising my latest novel too - your diamond metaphor is a good one. When I read through the book the other day, I just wanted to rip out all the words that didn't sparkle and make every scene different but beautiful - pare them down and then polish them up. I'm starting the process on Monday ... wish me luck! :) And good luck with your revisions, too!

Stephanie Perkins said...

Yes!! What a great metaphor, and so timely -- I'm trying to get around X & Y in my mid-way climax right now too. I've just realized it's taken WAY too long to get there. Snooooooze!

Good luck, Laini!

(Love the Edison quote.)

Alex S said...

THe most important thing of all Fattypants is that you have a huge platter of cupcakes beside you as you revise away late into the hours of the night- OR a couple dozen WW 1 pt bars. I think its important that the people know that you also have an I.V. set up as you write that injects you with maple syrup to keep the adrenalin and energy flowing. And thats the whole truth and nothing but the truth. (I'm em'ing you from the hotel! All is going SUPER here!)

Jone said...

I love the idea of the story being like a strand of diamonds. I am laughing too becuz. didn't you just write this yesterday: "And now I dive into revisions, not to surface for days." Love that you too find moments to side track although this is much more related than my posting an author interview when I am suppose to study for the national boards. Ha!

Amber Lough said...

Edison was a cool dude, but some things about him are scary. I read in a book last night (Water for Elephants) that he volunteered to electrocute an elephant to death in order to prove his alternating current theory. Topsy was killed, and he filmed it, showing it around the country to over a thousand people.

I love elephants, so reading that was so sad. And there's a picture of Topsy on the net. :(

Amber said...

Well, I really felt like the last half of Dreamdark read like that, if that helps at all. What did you do then? I thought it was very exciting, and wham wham wham! So you can do it.

:)

Barratt Miller said...

I love reading your writing posts (Not For Robots included). I'm a perfectionist, too, so writing sometimes drives me crazy. It's reassuring to know I'm not the only one who writes this way. :-)