Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The joys of revision

I am spending this week alone in Maine for two reasons: because I have a number of events and meetings here, and because I want to take advantage of the solitude to concentrate on revising the second Lexicon book, The Ice Castle. I'm making my way through about three chapters a day.

The story itself is in good shape. I'm not looking at major plot changes; I moved action around and eliminated a chapter last time through. What I'm doing this time is tightening and brightening.

For example, I'm making sure there are no dropped details. If Ivan puts leaves in his pocket in one chapter, he needs to use them in some later chapter. If he leans snowshoes against a wall, that better be where someone finds them later.

I'm tightening dialogue, checking to make sure that my kids sound like kids and the minor characters have distinct and consistent voices. In a similar way, I'm trying to give the minor characters names and brief descriptions that will make them stand out and stick in memory.

Point of view presents challenges of its own. Lost in Lexicon is told in two points of view, Ivan's and Daphne's. Ice Castle adds the point of view of their young cousin Lila. Juggling three points of view is more complex for both reader and writer. I need to make sure that every chapter starts with a strong indication of which character's eyes we're currently looking through. When I change POV mid-chapter, I have to do so for good reason, mark off the change with dingbats, plunge directly into the new viewpoint, and maintain it for at least a scene.

Next are the descriptions of place. What are the details that will make a reader feel s/he is actually within the scene? These details have to be strong but few. Kids have no love for long descriptions. Finding the right sensory details, details that are unique but convincing, is a challenge.

I'm also on the lookout for cliches either of language or of situation. Luckily, my editor is ruthless on this score. He won't let anything get by him that smacks of authorial laziness. He demands that I "unpack" each cliche: figure out what I really mean to say, figure out if it's genuine, and then find a better, more precise way to say it. It drives me crazy, but I think it makes the text stronger.

Closely related to cliches are gestures. I have to make sure I don't use the same ones over and over again. If Daphne bites her lip when she's thinking, I can't have Ivan and Lila doing the same. I need to make sure gestures are characteristic and genuine, not just padding to help me through a passage.

Finally, I look at words and sentences. Words can't repeat too often in close proximity. Unintentional rhymes and excessive alliteration have to be eliminated. Sentences need to flow. When this revision is done I'll read it aloud to one or more family members, making sure the words run smoothly and don't get caught on too many hidden snags.

Some authors hate revising. I like it. Sure, there are times when I get frustrated and take a break to go down to the dock and watch the cormorants swimming so low in the water they look about to sink. But then I go back. I have a story, I care about my characters, and I want to touch up, highlight, and polish until readers can experience the story I see in my mind.

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