I'm sitting in the kitchen, with the woodstove huffing and crackling to itself, with peanut butter cookies and cheese scones on the counter and a cup of tea beside me. Outside it's raining gently, but not quite dark enough for me to draw the curtains. I can see the tight little clumps of blossom on the plum tree still, and the leaves coming out on the roses.
The kitchen curtains are newish. The winter was cold enough that I scoured through the thrift shops for something I could stand looking at (though, as Mark said, any curtain becomes invisible after a month anyways), and came up with nice slubby linen with a powdering of fat stars for the wide window, and two long tan corduroy pieces for the tall window. Then I stencilled fleur-de-lys in dark red over the tan, to make it less boring. So now I can shut the outside away if I want.
This week I've been sleeping in until 6 or 7 a.m., and reading, not writing. I'll post some book reviews in the next day or so, but I thought first I'd ramble a bit about revisions, since that's what I've been immersed in when not engaged in salaried labour, for the last couple of months.
So, yeah, revision. Willow Knot completed came out at almost 130k wordcount, and after getting my beta readers' feedback I hacked it down to 105k, which was at the high end for what I understood agents would look at for a first novel (90k is preferable).
What I took out in that pruning was:
introspection. Any time a character thought something over and those thoughts resulted in action or decision, I cut the thoughts and demonstrated them through the action.
incident that contributed to atmosphere rather than plot, or that began a plot thread that was later cut.
description of anything already established, even if the writing was pretty.
Then, after 30 form rejections or silences, I got an agent. Woohoo! (I still don't quite believe this.) Phone call and email and a list of further revisions, with the perk that I could bring the wordcount up to 125k or so.
A note, here. Agents often ask for revision. I understood this, because I tend to binge-research, and I'd researched agents, and the process of querying, and what's involved in being represented by an agent. But I've run into enough beginner writers who are astonished and somewhat distressed by the idea that an agent, while loving one's work, doesn't think it is perfect as it stands, that I feel I should emphasise this point.
So. Agents may ask you to revise your novel. My agent (a little quiver every time I type those words, still) began as an editor, so she knows what she's doing when she suggests revisions.
First lot of revisions: tighten up the time in the woods, and spread the more eventful events more evenly through those years; build up Myl's knowledge of plants and the hardships & hunger of the forest; make Myl's adjustment to the court more gradual and show her finding her way; simplify the political situation within and without the kingdom.
The wordcount went up to about 120k, and I shipped it off.
Thing I was sorry to lose: the establishing of a House of Commons.
Thing I was happy to add: a masque! and more of the bear.
Not unexpectedly, there was more to come. Second lot of revisions: tighten up the time in the woods, this time by wordcount more than events; build up Myl's ear for charms & magic; add brief episodes of Midame's doings in the first half of the story; establish the elves so as to raise the question of whether Errigenie is elf-touched; intensify the tension between the two kingdoms & bring them to the brink of war; tie the conspiracies together; clarify Alard's scepticism and give him more time for character development in the last part of the story.
The wordcount went up to about 122k, and I shipped it off.
Kind of funny things: the suggestion that I add scenes from Midame's pov, and the suggestion that Nomency and Lusantia be downgraded from kingdoms to duchies or counties. Both of these were things that I had considered in the first writing, but had held back on.
It was suggested that I cut the black thing. This is where I balked, and instead have tried to tie the black thing more closely to Midame and to the marsh events. I may still have to cut it, but I feel it has a job to do, particularly in being what breaks Myl's hope in the forest and inclines her to accept Alard's offer of return.
General thoughts about revision.
Writing is like painting. Add more words, cover up mistakes, fill in layer after layer to create an illusion of 3-dimensionality. Really it's all paint and flat, but add light and shadow and you will deceive the eye.
Revising is like carving. Take away what obscures the form. Start with chisels and mallets, finish with sandpaper. It can't be done in one go, the way the writing can. I have to go back the next day, and back again, each time finding more (though less at a time) of what obscures the form, and removing that piece, that layer, that corner.
Another metaphor altogether: what my agent showed me, and what I found for myself once I started looking, is that I have all the pieces for a strong scene, all the lego blocks for the pirate ship or space shuttle, but I haven't put them together. For example, Alard is carrying his unconscious friend through the forest, evading the conspirators who want to kill him and, unknowingly, the bear (more bear!). Did his injured friend rouse and rave? Did the conspirators pass nearby? Did the bear? Here's where I scuff my feet and look at the ground. Um, no. No, it didn't occur to me to do anything with those pieces, like snap them together into a more intriguing shape. Not until this most recent revision.
Naturally, I can look at someone else's writing and see where they missed an opportunity to build suspense or excitement. That's easy. It is to be hoped that I can now look at my own and do the same. At least in the second draft.
Closing with a brief arthritis report. The right elbow is annoying, and the left foot (the ball thereof). Both thumbs are a bit twingey if I stretch them out, but that may be due to using the belt sander to rough out the puppet heads last week (in case you wondered where that carving metaphor came from). Overall pretty good.