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?

No comments: