Monday, November 3, 2008

Planning for the next revision

The book still needs a lot of work of course, and I'm starting to organize myself to tackle it. The planning is in part determined by when I'll be able to get a reader. I want to turn over as strong a draft as possible--no part in having them discover problems I'm already conscious of--but I don't want to be in the middle of a revision when I turn it over. So I'm wargaming the scope of the next attack. It's possible it will be 6 weeks before hitting the print button, so it could be a pretty extensive revision. Two days per chapter, for example, would get me all the way through it again, and that's enough time to do more than sentence-level work. This is also determined in part by the urge to get out there and start doing some paying work again. It's hard to know how that will affect my writing mood.

I tried a self-designed exercise today. I have one of those superoversized clipboards that art students use, with large pads of newsprint for sketching. I set that on my lap, drew a grid for space for all my chapters, and tried to write one simple thing in each box--the key sentence at the climax that delivered on the promise of that chapter. What I was looking for was something emotionally impactful, that resolved a big drama within the scale of that chapter but also escalated the larger drama of the book. And it needed to be something I remembered word-for-word.

I was able to do it for several chapters. In others, I could picture the moment that I wanted to be like that but couldnt' come up with the language I had used. In those cases and in a few others where I couldn't even come up with that picture, it clarified for me that the chapter in fact did not deliver on its promise. And I shouldn't be surprise that the chapters that have caused me problems all along were a problem here.

It seems obvious now, but one thing I need to do next is to identify the single powerful thing I want each chapter to achieve and then shape the chapter toward that goal. And of course that single powerful thing has to fit in with a larger arc for the book.

As I was doing that, I was making notes on my outline document that I have been using all along. At this point it is basically like a contractor's punch list with change orders listed on it by chapter. Some of the notes are about checking for consistency in details. (Do I have that cousin the same age throughout the book? Didn't I have a couple different names for that character--go back and make sure I changed it everwhere.) And some are pointing out where despite all my digging and developing work certain scenes are still not doing the work they need to do.

In those cases, I often make my notes into action items, particularly freewrite prompts. I'm thinking that each morning I can tackle one of these freewrite prompts for a couple weeks to get a better big picture sense of the book and then start to weave in what I discover.

An example . . . I have many minor characters of course that are necessarily less well-developed. But it occured to me that one of these minor characters nevertheless must have a large presence in my main character's imagination. So I need to do some basic character sketching on that minor character to get straight in my own mind who he is and also to think about what my main character must think of him. I'll do a little freewriting and then identify a point or two in the book where I can weave in what I've learned.

So, many things to do, all over the map. I'm not really sure where to start first.

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