Saturday, December 5, 2009

Starting Over from Scratch

After the Rain--Arnold-Marc-Gorter-1866-1933 I’ve had a couple of questions about revisions, so I thought I’d share my revision process for a problem that was really getting on my nerves. (Boring post here! Most of us don't really like revision.)

I want to add that this was my third or fourth draft--I don't do any revisions as I write the first draft because it really slows me down. I like to get the whole thing on paper before I start editing.

At the end of October I was revising the latest Myrtle Clover (my personal revisions, not the editor’s.) I thought the beginning was ‘okay.’ But the more I looked at it, the more it really started bothering me.

I tried approaching it from a couple of different directions. I switched one scene with another as a lead-in.

Then I revised a long scene and made it much shorter.

I took out a phone conversation that I realized was unnecessary and instead started the next scene with the person doing the action they’d discussed on the phone.

Some of the sentences seemed longer than needed, so I broke them up into shorter ones, which made them read a lot smoother.

After all these changes, it was much better. But it still wasn’t the beginning I knew it could be.

I decided to pretend that I hadn’t written the beginning at all—that it didn’t exist.

I rewrote the entire first chapter, using a different approach. The nice thing about word processing is that we can easily see which one works better and cut and paste the different beginnings in.

The first beginning had a lot of set-up written in. I incorporated it with humor, but a duck is a duck. It was set-up. And set-up slows down the pace—and is boring.

With the second beginning, I ditched the set-up. Instead I included foreshadowing to let the reader know to keep an eye on a particular character.

I completely removed, in my rewrite, several passages that were unnecessary. For example: I needed to have a particular character at another character’s house. In the original beginning, I’d had a whole sequence to set that visit up. Boring.

In the second version, I just opened the scene with the visit and put in a passing reference to it in dialogue, “I’m glad you could come by, Jill, and help me out…”

Looking back at what I did, I’m thinking now that I should just immediately have done a total rewrite of the entire first chapter. Instead I spent a lot of time doing surface work on something that had a deeper problem. Yes, it did read better when I changed scenes around and toyed with my sentence structure. But, for this instance anyway, I got much better results with the radical rewrite.