Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sweating the Small Stuff - The Creative Process: Part Eleven

Revising means more that looking for spelling errors and misplaced commas. It's more complicated than simply fixing a rough plot. Revising means polishing characters and finding (and keeping) a consistent voice for the whole novel.

Everyone always wants to know how to edit for voice. I can't tell you exactly how I do it. But I can give you some examples and maybe a few pointers.

Here's a line from a short story I'm working on. First, the rough draft version. Dust and heat hit like a wall as I take my first steps on Malachee.

After a bit of thinking about how that "hit" confuses the tense (which is first person present), I came up with the following solution. Dust hits like a fist as I take my first steps on Malachee; heat is a sucker punch behind.

Not necessarily the perfect (or permanent) solution but now I'm thinking along a better train of thought. And I have more creative options about how to expand or diversify that opening.

Here's a bit from a sketch for a potential novel. Centurion was about ten hours ahead of her internal clock which meant she’d be coming on duty about the time she normally went to sleep.

And the revised version. Stretching and pretending to yawn didn’t trigger any feelings of sleepiness. Her internal clock was not in synch with life on the ship. Yet. In the meantime she would have to deal with a duty shift that coincided with her normal sleep cycle.

Again, it's not necessarily a perfect solution but it certainly has more movement, more in common with the POV character, than the first version. (And let's remember that, for better or worse, I work through several drafts before I'm satisfied.)

I like to write my narrative as close to the POV characters "voice" as possible. I've been told that narrative voice (in third person) can never exactly match a character's voice. But I'll be damned if I don't try. That means that every description, every observation, every word choice is informed by the POV character. If they are poorly educated, I don't use big words and may even opt for less smooth sentence construction to stick more closely in their head.

This is not a choice that every author will want to make. I find it works well for me. In part because once I find the main character's "voice" I've also found the book's voice. Learning how far to push it... that's an ongoing process.

For me, the small details are really what holds the story together. A character describing something a particular way. An image that is beyond typical. Making sure those details come through is part of the revision process. It doesn't matter how brilliant the plot is if the characters seem flat or the action is stilted by failing to show those little nuances that say "This is someone you've not met before."

Right now I'm in the middle of a fourth draft of a novel. There's a lot of fiddling with little things. But less now than there was in the previous draft. And that's the way it should be.

What about you? Do you have a method for finding voice? Or a way to compare one chapter to the next as you aim for consistency? Or maybe your "small details" are something else entirely? How do you polish the little things in your novel?

Begin at the Beginning - The Creative Process: Part Ten

Once I get a better idea of what needs to be fixed plot-wise in my rough draft, I start rewriting. Usually I have a stack of scribbled-over, post-it splattered pages, a new outline, and a bunch of pages in the trash. This is because A) I like to work from an actual paper copy when I make revisions, B) the original story/outline has undergone major reconstructive surgery, and C) a lot of the rough draft turned out to be useless. (At least for the moment.)

When I start rewriting I start from scratch. Using my outline to keep me on track and my scribbled-over pages to give me something to work with I open up a brand spanking new document, label it "Big Shiny Idea - Draft Two ver 1". Then I begin with sentence one (even if for some miracle I decided to keep it the way it was in the rough draft) and start typing. All of it. From scratch.

I can type 2k in an hour if I absolutely have to. If you are a slow typist you might want to consider improving your typing speed or use an alternate method for revisions.

Before you say "Screw that. I'm not retyping the whole damn book." let me explain my madness.

I noticed a while back that when I went through and made revisions (especially in longer - novel length - work) that I could tell which sections had been in the rough draft and which were revised. Sometimes it was just a shift in voice or tone. But most of the time the revised sections simply did flow with the rest.

Maybe I'm the only one with this issue. Maybe every other writer on the face of the planet has no trouble in making revisions flow seamlessly into the rest of the story. But I, apparently, struggle with this.

After a bit of flailing trying to rectify the problem I discovered a simple solution. Write it all as one piece. When I started at the beginning and wrote through to the end (not all in one sitting if we're talking about a novel) my brain ironed out the seams and tweaked the notes I had made so that everything actually fit together.

I'm not sure why it works like that for me, but it does. And I always recommend that you try and actually retype as much as possible when you revise a draft. This also helps smooth out changes in voice or writing skill that may have developed over the course of writing the novel.

Whether I'm rewriting everything or filling in chunks I do find it works best to start at the beginning and work through to the end. It just helps me keep the story moving forward, the character arcs arcing and the tension moving gradually toward the climax.

What about you? Do you revise beginning to end or hop around until it's all finished?