Wednesday, January 16, 2013

I've Always Wanted to be a Surgeon

Which is probably why revising stories is my favorite part of writing. First drafts typically make me tremble in fear--the page daunts, the characters not fully gelled (if at all), the infinite possibilities. So many choices can deaden the process.

But after the first rush of story is laid down, the fun begins. The first revision stage involves building up--fleshing out the character, filling in plot and story gaps, developing the environment. Sometimes characters are added, as are new scenes. The first revision of a novel is the longest time I spent with any revision--sometimes years--more than the initial draft.

I then let the story marinate.

The second revision stage involves subtractions--killing my darlings, including characters who don't do double-duty, the endless scenes in coffee shops, dialogue which takes up space but which does not fill. The second revision,and many of the revisions after, are often bloody, and it is this part of revision which scares and fascinates me so. I feel a bit in awe when my characters and chapters lie bleeding on the floor.

The story then marinates, again.

But this stage also involves a more important piece, and that is the revisioning of the story: how it should look and feel. Once again, the possibilities are endless, including changing POVs, tense, voice, era. Often, the second revision stage entails rewriting, if not the entire story, then large chunks.

The final revision is when I polish, when I work the sentences and word choice, the epigraphs, remove tics and tags and redundancies. I shine my apple to a high polish.

Like all good things in life, writing (especially novels) takes a lot of time. I recently undertook a challenge with a colleague to polish our first novels. We had a deadline, part self-imposed, part real, which essentially gave us a month that spanned the holiday 'break'. I had not revisited my story for almost a year, even though I began writing this story January 2, 1996. (Seven is an auspicious number).

We read each other's work, provided extensive critique, absorbed, and revised. She provided the key as to why one of my two protagonists didn't work--the voice (always the voice) and the reason: the narrative distance was unclear, which made the audience muddy.

I spent 2 weeks revising her voice, coming close but falling short, and then in the thick of it i received some input from an editor in the small press business, who echoed what another agent in the biz told me over a year ago, when I placed CLOSER TO NORMAL into marination: tell the story from one POV.

In once week, I revisioned my story to Ben's POV. It is a leaner, more elegant story, and one that certainly places you in his head. Removing Phoebe required losing 25,000 words, several plotlines, and her voice, sweet but overridden by Ben's charisma.

The story is submitted. It also is marinating, again, for now I cannot shake Phoebe, she's a little pissed she's relegated to supporting role. When she screams loud enough, I'll pull her and story out of marination, and revision, again.



  1. Or perhaps give Phoebe a story of her own.

  2. EC, no matter how the story gets written, Phoebe will have a story of her own. Actually, she already does--I just need to figure out how to tell it! Peace...