Thursday Workshop (Day Eight of the Great Downhill)

Last night, I took to my Thursday night workshop a chapter I’d written a few days ago, something I’d had little time to think about after writing. It’s enormously helpful to bring unpolished work in. When you do, you get big comments, very useful for filling in what you need to do after you’ve pushed through to the end of a very rough first draft. That would include comments like: the character doesn’t react to this provocation and really, he should. Or: Perhaps you should move this moment of revelation to the end of the scene, when he is alone, rather than in the company of someone he’d never reveal himself to. That sort of thing.

Because I used to bring in chapters that were already thoroughly worked over, I am accustomed to a different kind of feedback, more micro-editing: this word is confusing, this line might work better earlier in the paragraph.

Which brings me to the subject of editing. My fellow workshop writers have been most helpful when they address the larger issues of a piece of writing. The other things, the word used twice in a paragraph, the unintentional rhyme, I suspect I’d catch anyway on a re-reading. But because there is a bit of turnover among the participants, few of them (maybe only four) have seen my story from the beginning. And so they do not have a sense of the whole, and do not know if what I am writing makes sense in light of that larger whole.

So, that’s the first thing, come November, when I begin editing, I’ll need to do. I’ve never done this before, but I suppose what you’d do is read the whole thing again with an eye to how the story should be shaped, where there is building up and revelation and resolution. I imagine you’d want to scribble down what happens in each scene and figure out if that’s where those events should occur.

That scribbled list would then be your guide in re-shaping and re-arranging and also, while you’re at it, continuity fixing (the hero cannot be bald in the first half of the book and have a healthy head of hair in the end), and maybe the addition of a little foreshadowing you forgot to do because you didn’t know what was going to happen. After that, you’d want to fix the glaringly bad sentences, straighten out the grammar and spelling and collapse on the couch, a wet washcloth pressed to your forehead, but with one eye trained on the kitchen, for the moment the huge chocolate cake arrives — the one with all the sprinkles on it, the one that’s been prepared by people who really, really, really want you to stop typing on your computer and play Parcheesi.

Having never revised a novel before, I actually have no way of knowing if what I’ve described will work or if it’s foolish in the extreme. It’s just my best guess. One thing is certain though: I’ll be glad to have a novel to edit. Which is to say, I’m hoping I’ll get through to the end in a few days — maybe not day ten, but quite close to that.


7 thoughts on “Thursday Workshop (Day Eight of the Great Downhill)

  1. That’s really good insight on what a workshop should do and not do to help one’s novel. Structure, gaping holes, and is it working; not nit picks. You probably have a good sense of the right amount of sanding you need to do before you display your piece, but that is a skill in itself. Sometimes, in poetry, I’ve been annoyed at people who bring in something, read it, we spend a lot of time commenting, and the author says, well, I didn’t really know what I was writing about, –a kind of DaDa effort. But, generally, novelists don’t resort to that kind of laziness. I know you don’t. Good luck on meeting your goals on finishing your final downhill fun. I can’t wait to see it all at some point.

  2. Sounds like a plan to me! I am still writing my first novel, so I’m afraid I can’t offer any secrets yet. I’m still at the climax of my novel, thick in the action. I am really looking forward to reading your book though! Good luck.

  3. Your sense of editing the final thing sounds right to me. I have a similar plan in mind for my nightmare: read the whole thing and make sure it all hangs together. In the case of my story, some of the characters might actually be literally, physically hanging together, but I’m not sure yet. At any rate, congratulations on the final stretch.

  4. Thanks Smokey. I’ve never thought about sanding, but that’s a good way to think of it. As for laziness, I am the queen of that activity, or non-activity I guess I should say. It’s only by exposing myself to the potential public humiliation of having to admit that I did not actually finish my novel but, instead, rearranged the tupperware in my kitchen, that I feel I can get the end of my story to come into view. Dorothy, it’s feeling a little like a century, but I know those can be done, so I’m going to take heart from you and do it.

  5. I am about to embark on yet another redraft (the 9th one for this ms, zzzzzzzz!!) I have a lot of templates that I have developed for this. At some stage in the future when I am more organised (ha!) I am going to put them up on my website so that anyone can use them. I designed them for myself and I think everybody’s approach to editing will be different so don’t know how helpful they will be, but, if you don’t mind, I will e-mail you my favourite one. I use this for everything I plan now, as well as for redrafts.

    By the way, I think it would be quite interesting for a character to make a revelation to somebody he wouldn’t necessarily confide in. There could be all sorts of interesting conflict and the person revealing more about himself than he ever intended…

  6. In the movie, The Illusionist, the story and the misdirection for the viewers to deal with are based on the idea that most of what the characters say is not what they mean, and when they say something that sounds like a fabrication, there is real truth in it. And the real truth and clues are in the body language and other acting techniques plus photography. I read somewhere that that’s what acting is– showing the truth beneath and beyond the words. So…. is that what you are doing in writing?– letting the dialogue pour out according to the laws of human nature, which is mostly misdirection, lies, and defensiveness, and then rely on the body language that you have to describe somehow, plus other comments about, say, the weather or clothing, to give the reader a somewhat reliable lie detector?
    I really don’t know how novelists work their magic.
    In poetry we have so few words dealt to us that they all have to be precise and truthful. Ha!

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