Friday, October 25, 2013

Revising with “The Raven”

I have finished the first draft of the second book in my Hannah McCabe series. After sending it out to my "first readers" and letting it set for as long as I can with a December due date, I am beginning to revise. I hate writing the first draft, but I truly love revising. With the first draft in hand -- or on computer until I need to print it all out to read -- I can begin to see the contours. This is when I pull out all of the writing books on my shelves and read what the authors have to say about revision. I'll talk more about some of the tips I'm using this time around. But first I want to share something that happened this morning.

Last night, after falling asleep and waking up because the room was too cold, I crawled out of bed and went to find a blanket. I was awake for at least another hour after that. This morning I should have slept until my alarm went off. Instead I woke up as the light began to seep into my room. I have a small portable television on my dresser, and when I wake up early I like to see what's playing on TCM. This morning, i opened my eyes to Vincent Price in "The Raven" -- a wacky Roger Corman version with Peter Lorre as a magician turned into a raven and Boris Karloff as Price's evil rival. Did I mention that the dead "Lenore" is very much alive and has faked her own death to leave Vincent for Boris. A very young Jack Nicholson is along for the ride as Lorre's not too bright, but handsome, son who is there for Price's lovely daughter.

As I was watching from my warm bed and thinking I should get up and write this post or do something else useful like go into the office early, it occurred to me that this was an opportunity to look for synchronicity -- the theory that what seems to be coincidence is actually the universe sending us messages, or, at least, that if we ponder a bit our subconscious will find connections and provide answers to questions we need answered. In this case, the coincidence was that my new book has a funeral director as the victim. He has a stuffed raven in his office -- a gift from his young daughter, who found the bird at an estate sale. Of course, my police detective sees the bird and makes the Poe connection. Watching "The Raven" played for laughs, I got to thinking about what I might do with that bird in my funeral director's office. That led me to a twist -- a perfectly lovely twist in my plot. I'm going to have to do a bit of revising -- but did I mention that I love revising?

Therefore, my first recommendation to you about revising:  Wake up early and see what's playing on TCM. Look for connections to your manuscript.

Here are a few other tips from authors of books about writing:

James Scott Bell in Plot and Structure:

"Develop a System for Your Read-Through"

". . . One of the worst things you can do is start at page one and just tinker with each problem you see as it comes up. . ." (p. 174).

Bell uses a red felt-tip pen and his own system of symbols to indicate problems in the manuscript. Other pros favor using a variety of colored pens or using color-coded post-it stickers.

After marking what needs attention, most writing pros recommend focusing on one problem at a time with multiple swipes through the manuscript.

Because I love backstory and sometimes put it in where it isn't needed, I'm attending to this advice from Donald Maass in Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook:

"Backstory is less important than most novelists think. If you must include it at all, place it so that it answers a long-standing question, illuminating some side of a character rather than just setting it up" (p. 147).

And because I do tend toward the "tried and true" in my first drafts, this advice from Evan Marshall in The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing:

"Seek and destroy cliches: hardy mums, butter-soft leather, a mighty oak, a trusted servant" (p. 184).

Before my revisions are done, I will have cycled through all the writing books on my shelves, opening them at random for inspiration and advice. I have done this often enough now that I know how to revise. But I fear that what has become habit could also have become something I do without sufficient attention.

And, now -- before I forget my brilliant idea inspired by Roger Corman -- back to the raven in my funeral director's office.

1 comment:

Hannah Dennison said...

Frankie - this is a brilliant post. What great tips for rewriting. I will definitely employ them when I start revising my current (first, truly awful) draft at the end of the month.