Thursday, July 17, 2008

Revisions and other writing processes

A few weeks ago, I was on a fiction panel at the Jackson Hole Writer’s Conference (a great conference, if anyone’s looking for one. I felt fortunate to be part of it). The conference director asked the four authors on the panel to pick a topic, and it took only one round of emails to come up with one—REVISIONS. Apparently, each of us had recently suffered through the procedure.

Should I use the word "suffered?” For me, it’s a difficult process, and I’ve recently begun to realize that revision starts before the pen hits the paper. As Justice Brandeis said, “There is no great writing, only great rewriting.”

If we look at building a house as a metaphor for creating a novel, then maybe choosing and preparing the site would be deciding on plot and theme. Then the worker/author moves to setting up the foundation and framework. The foundation could be the characters, and the framework the outline—which brings up another question. How much do you outline? I know, this varies all over the place depending on the writer, but it seems everyone does some, even if it’s mental.

Jump in and add your two cents at any time. I’m still trying to work this out.

Where do those doors lead? What events lead to the protagonist’s next adventure or revelation? What motives and needs drive the characters?

And here’s where the building becomes tricky. If we’ve hung the drywall, which might be fleshing out secondary characters and allowing our primary characters freedom of choice, we’re going to find that someone’s done something unexpected. One of the characters gets pregnant, with or without falling in love. Someone dies or leaves. An accident occurs. A close friend/confidant turns out to be a betrayer. Our protagonist’s choices have unexpected consequences.

And we have to tear down some of that drywall, let alone trash the intricate paint job we thought was so brilliant. In fact, we have to move rooms around.

The next step is to ride out the despair and uncertainty and dig back to our foundation—the characters. We’ll find our answers there. In fact, we’ll start to see the questions we wanted to ask all along. Keep at it. Be sure to give ourselves the time to do it, which is a whole other issue.

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