Saturday, January 30, 2016

Familiarity Breeds Attempt

  Among the worst things you've ever done composition-wise is to have sent contracted material in without at least one full revision. In an ordinary working day, you'd have no difficulty with three pages an hour, meaning twenty-one pages in a seven-hour day, or a tad over five thousand words.

This included beginning the new day with a close reading of the last four or five pages written, opening a possibility for some addition, removal, transposition, or outright re-framing, so saying you'd turned pages in with no revision does not fit either the true definition nor the false, except that you were at the time curious to see if you could get past the editors with that strategy.  Often you did, but there were times when the notes carried a greater weight of specificity. When those times arose, the probability of your work day extending to ten or even twelve increased.

Time is an important factor. What seems good, by which you often mean mischievous, today will not of necessity survive a second look.  Fair also to say that material written today with a general sense of you merely getting words down on the page could turn out, after a rereading in subsequent days, packed with keepable material, possibly even including some insights that impress you.

Unless there are some dramatic changes, your workday runs toward seven or eight hours.  These days, you're only likely to stick it out to eleven or twelve at night are payback for previous procrastination or those wonderful times when you write yourself beyond most consideration of time. 

Your stated process is to write as much without thinking as possible, until a completed draft seems to appear.  Then you begin the revision, one step, which is to say one draft at a time.

Whether short story or novel, the first step is to find the optimal place to begin.  This step may mean a simple deletion of material that has come before, or decisions about where to place chunks of the too-early material without interrupting the forward movement of the story.

Next step is to discover the place where the story ends, which is not as easy as you'd like to think.  Endings have certain requirements, not the least of which is avoiding over-explanation,but also including an action-related set of movements that will leave the reader not wanting to look at the desert menu.  

When this quality of tension or suspense is achieved, you need to check the final paragraphs of each scene, if the work is a short story, to make sure there is some emotional cause for the reader to turn the page embedded.  If the work is a novel, the term "cliffhanger" is more appropriate for chapter endings. What materials the reader has been manipulated to feel concern about will the reader still wish to discover?

The next step is truly subjective because of its generality:  Check to see why the reader will need to continue reading.  What catastrophe will inflict itself upon the protagonist?  How will the protagonist react, now that complication B or perhaps C or D or F has been delivered to the protagonist?

At this point, you want to check to see if the story could have been more effective if told from one or more different points of view than the one or ones chosen.  After making your choice (or choices) you need to go through the entire manuscript looking for the possibility of point-of-view violations, also known as head hopping, at the same time looking for possibilities that you allowed yourself to get into the picture by telling the reader something "Fred was angry" the reader should well have intuited from the way Fred, himself, talked and behaved.

Checking on point of view, we can move along to a pass where each character is vetted for his or her reasons for being in the story.  Does she or he earn admission?  Do they sound like themselves?  Can any of them be combined into a single, more complex character?

Now you're ready for a pass wherein all you do is focus on dialogue.  Is it too conversational?  Not confrontational enough? Somehow out of the range of the character's personality?  Do the characters sound like themselves or like you?

After dialogue, we go into the second of three filters for bringing story on stage, the first being dialogue.  What about how the lead characters think. which is to say, does the interior monologue sound faithful to the character or more like you, wanting to make sure the reader understands what's going on?

The third filter is narrative, the movements the characters make, sometimes simultaneous with what they say and what they think. Fred took cautious steps to the shelf, where he picked up a small, framed head shot of a young woman, her chin extended as a proud statement.  Could this be the missing person he was being retained to track down, then bring back home?  

Naturally you'll want to have a run through the entire manuscript to see if the pace maintains, in other words, looking for soft spots in the narrative fabric, which you'll want to enhance by trimming detail, adding action, or relevant dialogue.

With the same critical eye you'd use to see if there are characters who duplicate themselves, you'll want a separate run through the entire manuscript to see if there are any scenes that duplicate one another.  Could either be deleted?  Could they be combined to produce a sense of tension.

Allowing a manuscript to go without a close look at all these is a risky business, one that will not cause any good to accrue to the stories you've yet to compose.

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