Sunday, March 14, 2010

recollected in coziness

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.


John said...

FWIW, based on your description, I agree with just about everything your agent has suggested. It is an odd, and annoying, thing that it's so much easier to see where someone else has their missed opportunities than where you've missed your own. I've read over and over that what separates stories is that the best stories take the opportunities that others pass up. Glad to hear that you're starting to see where the opportunities are in your own work. (Heaven knows you're already awesome at critique.)

BTW, the "word verification" is gullite. Doesn't that sound like a superhero's (not so) hidden weakness that allows supervillains to bend the superhero to their will?

Terri-Lynne said...

Thanks for that B! I've been looking forward to a revisions post. I'm slightly nervous about getting revision edits for Finder, but really excited too. Eeep! My tummy just flipped a little!

I cannot WAIT to read this. I loved the beautiful and imperfect draft I read what--two years ago? Was it more??? I get chills thinking about it.

My verification word is uptif. Uptif. I kinda like it for some reason.

batgirl said...

The big miss that she pointed out in the 2d revision is that I'd let rescuing Sefina, rescuing the princess, and the robbers finding the cottage be 'this happened and then that happened', when what they needed to be was 'this happened and so that happened'.
Strangely, I had the hardest time with that part. Hacking 4 chapters down into 2 chapters was a mere bag of shells in comparison with linking those events causally as well as sequentially.

Gullite sounds like a mineral you could feed to people to convince them of things, too.

Terri, if you want, you can post your revision notes on the thread in the AW VP room, when you get them? I feel like such an egotist being by myself there.
Maybe your tummy did an uptif just then?

Terri-Lynne said...

Oh, cool. I hadn't thought of that. Yes, I will post when it comes time. One of the great things about a small house is the speed in which things happen. The down side is that you don't know they're happening until they DO! It took Eric 5 weeks to get to reading my little 6 page synopsis, then two weeks to read the whole dang manuscript and offer to publish. Crazy, crazy--but fun! Woohoo! (oooh--my tummy did do an uptif!)

Gads, that does seem like a lot of weaving, but I've no doubt you were up to the task. I don't think I've ever looked forward to the seeing a book in print than I am yours. Well...maybe the final Harry Potter, but that's it!
(today's word is wompl...I love it!)