Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Clustering and a new chapter

I'm still reading that Susan Bell book a little every day and am really getting a lot out of it -- unfortunately. I wish I had had it when I was working on the first rewrite. I guess right now it's not helping me to spot problems so much as to diagnose problems that I know are there and prefer to ignore.

One of the concepts I got out of the bit I read yesterday was of "clustering." This is in her long examination of the correspondence between Maxwell Perkins and F. Scott Fitzgerald during revisions of The Great Gatsby. An early draft had a section, near the end, where Gatsby starts unloading to Nick all of his life story, which solves characterization and motive and plot problems. But it's an inelegant solution because it's all clustered together, feels like an information dump and interrupts the momentum of the present action. Bell goes on to show the more elegant solutions that Fitzgerald developed in later drafts.

I recognized the phenomenon. I definitely had that problem with one character in particular, and in fact I wrote about trying to address at the start of the last revision. I did de-cluster it a little bit and spread the butter more evenly around the bread. But not completely and perfectly and there are still some lumpy bits.

I think I do a good job of avoiding the sense of an information dump that Bell warns against. However, there is still the problem of seeming to depart from the main story. How do I stay focused on the present action that interests my main character while getting in information about stuff that happens outside his presence?

The problem I'm concerned about is in the chapter that I "line edited" yesterday. I did that work, but I knew in my heart as I did so that there was a deeper structural flow. What's really interesting to me is how these flaws are built in and inherent from the original concept of the book and keep rearing their head like a game of whack-a-mole.

That problem kept me tossing last night. Reading Susan Bell helped me think it through some more and this a.m. instead of trying to "work" on it or "fix" it, I did some freewriting and note-taking to try and sort out some possible solutions. And the solution I'm leaning toward right now, unfortunately, is to write a new chapter. I plan to take the current Chapter 11, to take the little bit of present action that's in there and take the digression/backstory stuff and use those as seeds to develop an episode that involves more present action involving my main character and his development, which should help me sneak in the backstory.

I'm not going to rush into it. Other solutions may come to me. But that's the way I'm leaning. I'm not excited about that. I really wanted to feel like I was done with this kind of development work.

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