February 6, 2011

Revision, part I

One of my favorite workshops was taught by Angela Rinaldi, an agent.  It was interesting to me because I was able to see through the tips that she gave for rewriting, how a book can look to a pair of fresh eye--to an agent.  Some of these tips I heard in other workshops (they must be universal) but it was her perspective that I found refreshing.  This would be a good CD to get of the conference (actually there were many that would be good to get).

Get Me Rewrite!
Angela Rinaldi

You might think your fist draft is your best draft.  Trust me,  It's not.
Revision does not diminish your creativity or originality.  Nothing will be lost by rewriting.
You have to make the time to re-write, make it part of your routine.
Out of the work, comes the work.  You have to do the work and you have to keep on doing the work.  You' won't arrive unless you go back in and keep on working. Even Keats revised. Even the great ones work for greatness.
Less is More.  Especially on description.
Revisions make you work on your inner voice, but your inner voice may be boring. Self-editing might result in bringing in other voices. 
Avoid those things that bother you in novels.
·      physical descriptions
·      bloated dialogue
·      exclamation points
·      excessive use of big words
·      dialogue tags that are intrusive, say too much
·      "shot a look"
·      too many characters
·      clich√© writing
·      "convenient" plot devices
A workshop where the teacher shows you how to edit can be very very helpful.

You have to learn how to read books and deconstruct them.  Read them and take them apart—esp. NYTimes bestseller books.

First Reader: Not every writer has a critical eye for their work.  Bring in a first reader as they can point out problems that the writer can't see.  We writers are very tender and it's hard to offer up the writing for perusal.  Set up some ground rules.  Pick someone who has the same aesthetic as you do.  Have them read for a specific item.  Grammar.  Or have someone focus on the through line—your main point—what's carrying through every scene—the railroad track that runs through every scene.  The arc of the novel.  If a scene isn't attached to the through line, then ask yourselves why is that scene there. Ask that first reader if they get what point you're trying to make.

Checklist of Bad Habits
You can use this list--because it's easy to do, it's also a good way to get into the editing.  Once you finish this, you'll have the strength to go back in and do more.
1.     Don't use dialogue tag lines—it should be obvious what's going on.  Don't use smiled, as in " 'Nice to see you,' she smiled."  If you have two people in a room, use minimal tags, instead use physical action.
2.     Avoid unnecessary stage directions.
3.     What goes first, comes first. Bob sees the knife first, then asks about it.  Many times Bob has picked up the knife before he saw it.
4.     Avoid adverbs.
5.     Don't give us back story in dialogue.
6.     Don't tell and then show—if you show it, don't tell.
7.     Don't open your book with obscenities.
8.     Don't open your book with throat-clearing.
9.     Don't use exclamation points.
10.  Don’t open with weather.
11.  Avoid sentences that start with "The man" or So or And or That or But or It.
12.  All your characters should have some redemptive qualities.

----------More Questions for Revision---------
Are your characters too familiar? Are they engaging? Do they have individual characteristics?  Do they lay down and die during critical moments—are they standing there like dolts in a scene of high intensity?  Do they react when they need to?
Have you given them names that fit their characters?
Characters reveal themselves through their words—does their dialogue match their intent?
Have you gotten into the head of characters, into their minds?
Story promise—in the first couple of pages of your novel?
Have you forsaken contemplation over action?

She read us a column by Ayelett Waldman, published in the Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2010.  Waldman uses the term "Bore-geous Novel."  Bore-geousness happens when you write beautifully but without any action.  Each scene must be necessary to the narrative.  "In writing, you must kill your darlings."  (Faulkner)

Does your story matter to you?
Is going to broaden our understanding of the human condition?
Are there surprises?
Is there a moment of epiphany?
Do you have a distinct voice?
What is your story's through line?
Source of tension? Internal desire vs. internal goals.
Does the character grow?

Story Promise
What will the reader gain, understand at the end of the novel?  EG: Is he going to get the girl—themes are more abstract, but story promise is more concrete—it's like the challenge the characters have to overcome.  Will the answer to a question be resolved?  The story promise is more concrete than the theme.  You always want the writer to give you a better idea of the human condition, but she sees that more as the theme.  [Some discussion here, as we are all bit confused.]  This is not the character arc. This is more like what the reader is promised at the outset: Will he get the girl?  Will she find her man?Will they have a child? Will they survive the car crash?

QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE (I've only given only the answers)
Websites that assist in the editing can sometimes cause you to procrastinate. 

Watch out for prologues—sometimes writers use them as doom to come.  When they work, they really work—those that are philosophical, families are in trouble, all is not what it seems—seem to give a sort of idea of how to read the novel are the best.

Titles?  They change all the time. Don't obsess about them.

When are we done with re-write?  If you're still working on it after 11 years, it's time to let it go—out to agents, or let it go.

Read aloud your dialogue.

First person POV is a revision nightmare because it allows you to say so much more.

1 comment:

  1. I like "Don't open with weather." I've read about thirteen narrative papers this weekend that begin "It was a beautiful (stormy, hot, cold) summer (winter) day in January (April, October) 2004 (1999, 2010) . . . "

    That's my new pet peeve.