Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Back in the saddle--starting draft 6

I started work on the book again this morning after about 6 weeks off. I'm tackling the changes that are prompted by the feedback I got from my friend reading it over the holidays. Roughly I'm dealing with 3 major issues in this draft:

- Developing one of the secondary characters more who is coming off flat and lacking complexity. That word "developing" is the one disappointment I have about where I am. I have had an arbitrary distinction between the rewrite process that I've been engaged in for about 18 months now--and which I've defined as digging and developing--and revision, which is where I want to have graduated to by now. On this one point, which hopefully won't be a big job, I'm still on the rewriting side of the line.

- Establishing one of the plot threads earlier in the book. There's one set of developments that get revealed in a flurry in the last few chapters so everything is in place for the climax. It feels tacked on. My friend advises me to cut that plot thread entirely, but I'm going to try and keep it and to establish it better earlier in the story.

-Cutting. This is the big one. I've always known it's way too long, and I'm ready to start dealing with that. Partly it's too long in absolute terms--as in it's not wise or practical for any book to be this long. But partly it's probably too long for the story at the heart of it. It's told in a very "baggy" way which has it's amusing and enjoyable qualities--many readers do like wallowing in a lot of detail and background exposition and flashback in certain stories--but there's a fine art to that. They only appear like background I think, when they work. In fact they are carefully integrated to the story. I have to figure out which of my amusing digressions are integrated to the story and which are not. That's just one of the things I have to figure out to help me trim. It's really about getting ever more clear about what the heart of the story is. Then being ruthless about what doesn't relate to that. It's hard, because it means cutting really good and amusing writing that I want to show off.

For now, I'm tackling these three big projects backward, hoping that while reviewing for places to cut, I'll see the opportunities to develop that character.

I put in about an hour this morning. I have my typescript printed out, dog-eared from my friend having read it, lots of post-it notes flagging different pages, and I'm shuffling around inside it trying to make up my mind about how to cut big 8 page chunks at a time while maintaining some quality in it that seemed important to me when I wrote it.

Somewhat arbitrary goal--to finish this draft (much shorter and polished enough to consider looking for an agent) by the end of this semester. 16 weeks from now. May 15. I should do that by getting back to my routine of working a couple hours each morning. I picture working broadly over the whole manuscript for about 8 weeks and then going chapter-by-chapter after that, two per week. I guess what I'm really saying is that I want to graduate from revision and into and past "editing" while working on this next draft. Ambitious, but it's time to start finding the path to completing it.

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