July 10, 2010

Revision Is Just a Phase (And Then Another Phase)

During revision, you can't expect to do everything at once. A flawless second draft is a wonderful daydream, but it's an unlikely reality. Revision happens in phases.

When I started the second draft of THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE, I made a deliberate choice to focus on character and plot, while leaving the development of setting and period details for later. This was a natural order for me, since setting is the part of storytelling I think about least. It also makes sense in general: you can still figure out if pacing and motivations work even when the characters are wandering around in something of a featureless void. Plus, keeping things vague in earlier drafts means you avoid doing research or worldbuilding that later becomes unnecessary when you remove a scene or subplot.

I believe my intention at the beginning of the draft was also not to worry about the careful crafting of every line. Again, putting off this step is sensible because it means you don't invest too much time on material that may not make it into the next draft. I seem to have forgotten this plan almost immediately, which helps explain why I spent a good eight months on a draft I wanted to get out in two or three. (Additional explanation: I have never, ever been right about how long something will take.)

Now I have a tight, nicely written draft, and if all I had to do was bring the setting to life and read up on 1960s childbirth practices, this novel would be going really well. Alas, though I made huge improvements to the characters and plot in this round of revision, there are still major weaknesses that require more big changes.

So I'm figuring out the next phase. I certainly won't be starting over, as I did for the second draft, but this revision is going to be more substantial than I'd hoped. It would be great if I could fix the remaining story issues and simultaneously build up the setting, all in the third draft. But I suspect that's just another wonderful daydream.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Chris Abouzeid at Beyond the Margins explores the idea that stories endure longer than the words that tell them.

2 comments:

Anna said...

I'll just say that '60's childbirth practices are very different than today. :))) I know in the 1940's my grandmother spent ten days in hospital with a normal birth; my sis will be in for 2 days with a C-section.

Looking forward to hearing about your newest member; fully cooked is very good!

Chris Abouzeid said...

Hi Lisa - Thanks for the mention!

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