Sunday, October 28, 2007

Revising: the Joys of Rewriting

Ok, it's not very glamorous, it's not sexy, and it doesn't do much for your home life: but revision is absolutely integral to any book. Some books more than less, but for the beatniks out there, while On the Road was typed on one long sheet of paper, it was heavily revised before publication.
I've not written anything here because I've been rumaging back through my novel, like nosing my way back into a wardrobe stuffed full of old clothes, trying to sort out which bits I want to keep and those I want to throw away.
And it's a process...I've been at work for about three weeks, putting alot of my other life on hold (answering emails, gaming, updating the website etc) - while I try and sort my way into some kind of sense. First of all I wanted to introduce my main character with a chapter of his own. In that chapter I introduced two new characters because I want a nice set of interesting characters well established by the middle of the book. And now I find that I need to write more about these two characters, and In doing so I'm altering where they are from, because I have found that I can use this group of three friends to tell the story I wanted much better than I was trying with the main character alone.
Alot of the work I am doing is because I have a clear idea of where I want the book to be by the middle of the novel - and how far from that I had got. By comparing the two, it allows me to assess how much I have achieved that I wanted to achieve.
I've also learnt something about my writing style, that I tend to plot very closely the movements of the characters through the physical geography of the novel, when I am not clear about where the novel is going. This all struck me when I started reading Far from the Madding Crowd, where each scene is clearly set out, and the consequences feeding into the next, and the unimportant details are then left out.
I'm bearing this in mind as I go back into the wardrobe, but also when I write my next novel, I want to plan out the process a little more clearly: because I think this will save me a few months hard work. I should work out the themes and the ideas I want to get across and then work out how various characters can carry each of these along. I feel I could go back and rewrite huge chunks now, and stick to the main scenes.
This all reminds me of something Mary Renault talked about: using the fast forward button for a story, just cutting unimportant details with the insertion of a sentence or paragraph, and getting back to the main details.
The best way of breaking down a novel, I find, is to take coloured cards - with each character getting a seperate colour - and then write what happens in each chapter on each card. I then pin these on my wall, chapter by chapter, allowing me to visualise the story a little bit better. If there are too many blocks of one colour, then I look where I can insert another story thread into the mix. Then I mark the main story events: and look through my list of events for scenes I can cut, or scenes that achieve the same thing as another, or just slack.

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