Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Reworking the novel - day 2

So, I've fallen at the first hurdle. Failed to blog yesterday as I spent the evening editing a short story for a friend. A very good short story, I'm pleased to say, and one which needed only a tweak here and there rather than some kind of root and branch hacking.

Anyway, the rewriting. I started yesterday morning with a huge brick of 412 typescript pages sitting on the dining room table. The structural element of the rewrite is going to consist, largely, of deciding what elements of the first 75 pages are really essential and deciding how to weave them in elsewhere in a felicitous manner.

Reading those first 75 pages again, I recalled a recent post on Nicola Morgan's blog that contained this advice on editing:

  • Shorten chapters, unless they are already stupidly short. Alter the places where they begin and end so that they usually end mid-action. Give every chapter a knife-edge beginning and ending. Do not let your reader stop reading.

  • Remove much more description than you want to.

  • Ditto with back-story, philosophy, scene setting and world building. Just because you know it, doesn't mean the reader needs it. Think iceberg.

  • Remove at least two of the first five chapters. Just do it. See what happens.

  • Remove all your favourite sentences.

Now, for me, some of those are a bit extreme. The last one, specifically. But, in general, I take her point. Self-indulgent writing is no good to anybody and will just be flicked past, if the book is read at all.

My chapters are already pretty short but, as she advises, I'm not sure all of the first six need to be there. Ms Morgan would undoubtedly dismiss chunks of them as world building/back story/scene setting. Can I remove two? Yes, though bits of them will need to turn up elsewhere.

She's right about description. I like a well-turned phrase as much as (probably more than) the next reader but if the description goes on too long, however exquisite it is, I find myself skipping to the next salient bit. So I've always favoured the 'key but telling details' in terms of description. Less is very definitely more.

So, what do I have at the end of my first day of reworking?

  • Five paperclipped chapters with bits of text highlighted and 'put this in when/after/before...'

  • A completely reworked first chapter.

  • A mild feeling of having ended up with a ball of string composed of five different strands which I now have to untangle into a single thread.

As AL Kennedy would say, Onwards!


Later: Not sure why the font changes halfway through that post - sorry!

6 comments:

Aliya Whiteley said...

I'm really interested in this process - please keep on telling us about it. Like Frances, I was always a bit worried that I never did much after the first draft. Now I realise it's actually the 348th draft already because I'm doing all of the editing as I go along. Phew.

Alis said...

I do a lot of editing as I go along too. I always knew the beginning of this one was going to need attention but I think I somehow hoped that if I wrote the rest of the book really well then, somehow, the rather slow beginning wouldn't matter!
clearly, I'm not under that particular illusion any more.

Frances Garrood said...

Before you go mad, just remember that while Nicola Morgan may be very wise, she isn't necessarily always right (this from one who has sent off her under-edited novel, and is now, as my kids say, bricking it...).

Alis said...

Hi Frances. Yes, I know that Ms Morgan is not the fount of all wisdom and knowledge but there's that feeling, isn't there, when you get advice and you know it applies? Generally I can ignore advice about writing because I know that I haven't fallen into the traps being described, but I think you know when somebody's hit the nail on the head.
At least, with an agent, she can tell you whether you've under-edited. I'm still yet to find anybody to represent me, though I'm hopeful that the prospective agent might become the actual agent!

C. N. Nevets said...

I agree with her in principle, but I'm not sure how you can possibly just cut 2 of the first 5 chapters unless you (a) write really short chapters, and (b) don't advance plot through the action of each chapter.

In which case you need a root canal, not just editing.

Alis said...

Hi Nevets. I know what you mean. Sounds like you're the sort of plotter who doesn't need NM's advice.