Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Onward to the beginning! Revision time at last.

In a fitting end of the month event, last night I finished the story for Book 2 / Part 2 and wrote "The End" at...well, at the end, of course.  There are still some things I want to go back and change, but for the time being I'm pleased to be done with the brute force draft writing.  As I've blogged before, draft writing and draft revising are fairly different activities.  Writing is pure creative thought; I give some regard while writing to proper sentence structure and word choice, of course, as well as (now, anyway) proper voicing in dialogues, but my main purpose is always to get the story down on paper as fast as possible. 

Now that I'm turning the chapter to another revision stage, though, I move into a more careful, deliberate process.  Part of the process is reordering most of the words and changing several.  I once read a beautiful way to describe the process, written by Douglas Adams, but my quote looker-upper is failing me now.  It had something to do with the task of a writer being the selection of a few words out of the millions available and then putting them into the correct order.  He was correct, whatever he said.  Word choice and order is absolutely vital in writing, more so than in any other entertainment medium.  In movies, for example, millions of people flocked to see Thor's ripped abdominal muscles, and most of those never really noticed that the bulk of his lines went something like, "Niff norf nuff numnom nohhhh."  Us authors, if I may include myself in that group for the time being, don't have sexy ab shots to get people interested; all we've got are the words we write.  Thus, it stands to reason that the words had better be the best possible ones. We have to choose the Thor's Abs of the possible words. 

There are, however, a few other things you do when you revise.  One is to look at details, making sure that the stuff you set up makes sense in, say, Chapter 3, and that it still makes sense a few chapters later.  Take, ferinstance, the forge scene.  I wrote it based on memory of forges and on videos and books.  Then, this weekend, we went to Colonial Williamsburg and I got to see a non-electric forge in action.  I even got slag down my shirt.  And...I was close.  The way I described the forge of the mighty Hephaestus was really pretty darn close, and in that I am pleased.  Close, though, ain't good enough.  As I go back through I'll be combining the multiple forges into just a couple to leave room for the great bellows, and I'll move a few other things around a skosh.  Then, it will be perfect. 

The third thing you do when you revise is check for consistency and story points left out.  The basic rule is that anything you bring up should tie to something; it either serves the plot arc or it helps us understand a character.  The author, though, shouldn't leave his readers hanging.  The Salmon of Doubt includes a story told by Sue Freestone, Douglas Adams's publishing editor.  In it, the great author was telling her of books he was writing, and:

There was a scene early in one book when he talked about some plates with, very definitely, one banana on each.  This was obviously significant, so I asked him to explain.  But he liked to tease his audience and said he'd tell me later.  We eventually got to the end of the book and I asked him again, 'Okay, Douglas, what's with the bananas?'  He looked at me completely blankly.  He had forgotten all about the bananas.

Now, I've done this kind of thing at work to see if people are paying attention.  I'll discuss the three things I know are important to retention, and list the first two but not tell the third one.  More often than not, the folks listening don't ask, which tells me that either they're not paying attention, or I've made the discussion so boring that they just want to go back to their cubicles and staple post-its to their foreheads.  I'm kind of hoping, though, that were I to do this in a book, people would ask me about the bananas, because novel readers have been quite effectively proven to be paying thorough attention, and the other alternative stinks.  Thus, my third goal in revision is to make sure I explain all the bananas.  And dragons, too, for that matter.  And there is that one little trip to buy silk outfits in Atlantis that I absolutely know I didn't close the loop on...yeah, it'll be fixed soon. 

The last part is dialog.  Dialog, dialog, dialogue.  My story has gods and humans from various walks of life and talking dragons and people from Scotland and...well, there is a fair amount of diversity.  A good dialog writer makes those differences pop out at the reader.  Going back through some of my earlier writing, and at the same time reading some of the comments that my beta readers made, it's pretty clear that I can't call myself a good dialog writer yet.  As I go through revising, I have to pay extra super special attention to making the talking between the characters help the storytelling instead of the other alternative.  I'll probably even blog about it some.  

So...look out world, another major milestone has been reached.  Soon, the Ascent of the Goddess will be born. 

Word Count: 87,392; total word count: 162,100

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