Friday, July 17, 2009

The voice inside, the voice outside

My wife read Ch. 12 and I went back to it this morning to make changes based on her feedback. (The chapter got longer by a page and remains lots longer than I would like it to be.)

Jane Smiley advises against having an intimate reading the work in progress, but I've had my wife reading it every step of the way. She heard first drafts read to her over lunch hours after I wrote them, and she's been assigned to read chapters as they get revised through all five drafts since then and to read the whole thing from start to finish a few times. She's given tons and tons of great advice and, probably more important, pointed out problems that I was too timid to face up to. Typically, a voice inside is trying to tell me that a scene isn't working, but it takes another voice that I can't ignore to get me to focus on that problem.

These conversations are very stressful for me and I assume they are for her also, because she must know that I will inevitably be quite depressed by them. Last night is typical. She reads Chapter 12 for about an hour and, hoping to avoid the tension, puts her comments in writing, but I lure her into explaining more. We do a lot of processing, talking through the problems until I see them clearly and have an idea of what needs to change. That's necessary of course and helpful, but it never feels good and I get discouraged at how much further from completion I thought I was when I handed the draft to her to read and how much more work I still have to do. Then I bitch and moan all night. In most cases I get back to work the next day, frustrated but disciplined, and make some more progress.

Well, it's been an amazing amount of time on her part over the last couple years and a lot of work to navigate the rocky terrain of my emotions. She'll deserve a ton of credit for the result. I'm sure I would have given up in confusion a long time ago without her as a sounding board.

Now, one caveat about the usefulness of her or any reader's advice. When she sees a problem she naturally suggests a fix. One scene in today's material, for example, had the character acting in a very emotionless and flat way, and she suggested showing how upset he would be. But the thing is I had him acting flat for a reason--the emotion sets in later; he's having a freeze response at that moment. So the fix I needed was to make clear what I was trying to do rather than to change what I was doing. Oftentimes I have to take the advice I'm getting and back it up a step. I just tell myself, "My reader is helping me see that there's a problem here. Now, what are the possibilities for fixing it other than what they recommend?"

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