Saturday, May 30, 2009

I r srs riter, I r revising

Reading another book on writing: Revision, by Kit Reed. Opened with some little trepidation, because as a pre-teen I read a Kit Reed story that scarred me for years. (I've just spent 10 minutes with the wonderful Index to SF Anthologies, and I think the story may have been called 'Winston') Even when I bought Other Stories and Attack of the Giant Baby, I read with my eyes half-closed, ready to flinch away.
Fortunately, this is non-fiction. Originally I picked it up to recommend to the writer I was prepping a critique for last week, but I'm finding it interesting for myself. I skimmed the first two chapters, which are openly intended to convince a beginning writer that Revision Is Necessary, because I belong to that weird subgroup that believes Revision Is Fun.
Lately I've been trying to puzzle out what separates one draft from another draft. I mean, at what point do you say you're now working on a 3d draft rather than continuing to fix the 2d draft? I get that the first draft is when you actually have some form of the whole story down, even if bits are more notes-to-oneself than actual narrative. But after that? Where's the split between 3d and 4th? Should I be rewriting the entire story, start to finish, every time?

Reed's chapter 3 gave me a clue about my own revision, um, system. She differentiates between
1. Draft writing, draft revision. The draft writer gets out a first draft without stopping to look back and make changes. Revision comes in subsequent drafts.
2. Block construction, or; revising as you go. The writer using block construction revises sentence by sentence, progressing slowly through a story of novel to what is essentally a polished version.
Add to these first two major types of revision, a third. This one takes place after the story or novel exists in more or less complete form. It is:
3. Revision to strengthen structure and story. ... This third type of revision comes after you think you're finished.
I know I turn out a pretty clean first draft. I realise that the superficial smoothness can mask structural problems. And I've been fidgetty when general discussions of problems with first drafts tend to concentrate on fixing surface messiness.
Reed's discussion of the advantages of 'block construction' sound very close to what I enjoy, especially the 'running head start' of tidying yesterday's work to build up speed for the next bit of story.
I'm not quite a match, because I'll also jump ahead in the narrative to write a scene that's in my head, while I still have it fresh. But I'm getting so many little sparks of 'oh yes!' reading about block construction that it's a bit exciting. After all I've read about coshing your internal editor to get the first draft down, and dreadful warnings about writers who endlessly polish their first pages or first chapters and never complete a book, I've felt somewhat defensive about my friendly relationship with my inner editor. As long as I can keep her from dithering, she's quite helpful.

Revision is on my mind because I've received a request to rewrite a story, and have a file of editorial comments and suggestions. Just as if I were a professional writer & stuff! Speed up the opening, fill out the ending, change the commas to house style. And change the title.

I think I will look at my old copies of Boy's Own Annual etc., to get the correct feel, because this is the Chimps story.
Here's some sample story titles from a boy's annual of 1928:
  • Dangerous Cargo
  • The First Grenadier of France
  • Coward of the Lost Legion
  • Del Oro's Luck
  • Two Miles a Minute
  • When the War God Walked Again
  • The Mystery of the Malakai Light
  • The Riddle of the River
  • To Rescue the King
  • The Red God's Call

Or perhaps the titles of articles might be more fruitful?
  • How I Flew from New York to Paris
  • My Most Thrilling Air Experience
  • Sentenced to the Hulks
  • Twenty-five Thousand Miles in an Eight-ton Boat
  • And Then I Jumped

With a little work, I could rearrange those into a flashfic. But revision comes first. And tidying the cat.
As Priscilla Fluffycat loses her winter coat, brushing her is no longer sufficient. She must be combed, combed with a fine tooth, which makes her puff out like a seeding dandelion and become surpassingly plushy.
She's afraid of the vacuum noise, though, so that's out.

No comments: