Revision Review

Since revision this time digs right into the foundation structure of NewBook, a post on where the revision is at the moment seems a good time to discuss the kinds of problems a book’s underpinnings or foundation–the deeper structure–can have, and strategies for fixing  same.   This is not a problem I have often, but it’s the one that’s plagued me since the concussion.   As additional reading for this topic (in case any of you are incubating a book, and also like Dorothy L. Sayers’ writing),  see if a library near you has a copy of The Mind of the Maker by Sayers, itself an interesting (to me, at least) discussion  of the doctrine of the Trinity as having particular relevance to creativity.    Within that book is a section on “Scalene Trinities” which accurately describes a number of problems of written works within the above framework.   You don’t, of course, need to accept the theology to use the insights into problems with writing.

Two alpha readers and my agent all spotted the same problem with NewBook–it just happened, or occurred, in a series of incidents or situations connected to each other only loosely by sequence and the continuing characters (familiar, but no more than that.)  The three said it differently, but what they said boiled down to “interesting, fun to read, but not going anywhere.”   Reworking an episodic book into a book with a strong through-line  is, I’m finding, much harder than wielding the chain-saw of correction to prune away excess verbiage obscuring the action, or even untangling sequential errors.  Always before, I’ve known where a story was going even when I didn’t know how it was going to get there.   It does no good to let the reins of your story-pony drop on its neck if your story pony has no more idea than you which way “home” is.   You’ll just wander from clump of grass to a creek for a drink, and uphill following the smell of a different grass.”

I knew my plot daemon wasn’t aboard the ship at the beginning –the whatever-he-is part of my brain that up until February 2018 took care of the books’ foundation in the guise of Colin Glencannon, the engineer of the Inchcliffe Castle in Guy Gilpatric’s books.   He showed up much later, absent-minded and pale, and neglected to tell me he hadn’t looked at the first 2/3 of NewBook.   He had a larger lump on his head than I had on mine.  So instead of trusting that the plot logic was in good hands and looking instead for the usual fossils, missing transitions, character breaks, and so on, I’ve been spending hours looking into all the options available for getting from Beginning to End.   Oh, and figuring out WHICH End best fits this book’s existing episodes so I don’t have to spend another year and a half in it.

A recent one shows how confusing it can be in the doing, and yet (afterwards) how necessary and logical and, um, obvious it is that it was needed.  Early on (not first or second chapter, but early-ISH) there was a dramatic Bump-in-the-Night event with Ky seeing a military-ish answer, and ending with a bunch of people tied up on the front porch.  Ky thought it was fun, getting in some action after those years as the white-clad Academy Commandant.   But that section had problems, and does not now exist.   The action bits were reasonably sound but they didn’t fit.  With something like that early in the book, it needed to connect soon and solidly to one of the main drivers of the book and it didn’t.   It was reminiscent, in the wrong way, of the attack on Rafe’s bookstore/stationery shop on Allray in the first series.  Early in the revision process I took it out to see how things flowed without it.  They flowed, all right, for too long without anything much happening.  So a Bump in the Night might happen but not *that* bump.   Finding the right Bump on the right Night took awhile, but it’s much better now.

But subsequently, and without the wrong Bump, I began to see that the character development I wanted wasn’t happening (something else mentioned by the early readers) because…because…Oh.  Yes.  Of course.   Ongoing through at least six of the previous Vatta books is the question of Ky and Rafe’s future.  In the Vatta’s War books, he is given enough space for the presence  he’s meant to be–a person with his own tangled past, with his change in response to Ky as they travel together and to his  *his* family’s peril, his late maturing–and then in NewBook he practically vanished from Point of View sections, and turned bland.  Rafe?  Bland?  Ky’s character had returned to my head, but Rafe’s had not, not until I re-read not just the last two books, but the earlier ones, reminding myself of everything that made him what he is.  Locked into the steam tunnel as a scared pre-teen with Gary, the senior bully, among other things.  I’d forgotten a lot about Rafe.  Yeah, he “gets” the twins even better than Ky.  So I’ve looked for places to give him the lead, make him the point-0f-view character, seeing Ky from his vantage, showing us his reaction to whatever side of her is uppermost.  What brings them together, what’s held them so far, is not “well-roundedness” but spikyness, not the round smoothness of a ping-pong ball but the painful spikes of a sweet-gum ball (helps if you know North American trees.

Christmas afternoon and yesterday I was working on a section (I think it’s chapter 7, not sure)  in which Ky is having a long conversation with an Important Person (in the IP’s mind.)  Originally written from her POV entirely, it now looked wooden (the IP has a tendency toward wooden) as well as too long.   It had occurred to me that having Rafe part of the conversation might help.  But why would he?  And would the IP even want/allow him there?  He wasn’t a witness to what the conversation was about.  Hm.  So he’s somewhere else, doing something else.  And it’s Rafe, the sneak, the expert…ah, yes.  Of course he’s bugged the room the conversation is in.  And he’s responding to what he sees and hears–both the IP’s attempts to intimidate and manipulate Ky, and Ky’s handling of the IP.  What will that mean for his hopes for a long-term relationship?

To the extent this book involves their relationship as they finally (it looks like) will have enough time together to make plans and carry some of them out, Rafe’s interior self needs to be more visible to readers.   What is he thinking, not just about Ky but about her family, about Slotter Key instead of Nexus II and other places he’s lived, about living on a planet v. moving around on a spaceship, about their responsibility (what would be their responsibility if they got hitched) to the twins, about his own future place in his own head?   And that’s best shown in POV sections.

Tonight’s little flashlight of inspiration is that the whole terraformer question (who?  when?  why?)  doesn’t have to fit in a novel or novel group…it will fit in a short story or novella at most.

Back to connecting the story’s skeleton and replacing any missing parts.

8 thoughts on “Revision Review

  1. Hi – could your book problem be solved if you broke it into short stories or novellas? Or perhaps a collaborator? Or could you open things up and write the story on line with input from your faithful, I hope, readers?

    I am not trying to criticize but it hurts to see you struggling.

    Stay safe and stay sane and enjoy the ghost horse.

    Jonathan up here in cold New Hampshire.

    1. Jonathan: I’m sorry you find it painful to read…my reasoning was that sharing the difficulties would be (*could* be) helpful to anyone else (now or later) struggling with concussion recovery. I was helped a lot by a friend in Canada’s honest description of her problems with an earlier multi-concussion…when I had my latest, I had her witness to read about, which meant some of the symptoms weren’t as scary as they could have been. And writing about a difficulty often (for me, anyway) makes it more understandable and reveals possible approaches to whatever I was trying to do.

      But also, struggle is always there in creative work. It’s not possible to bring a book or a painting or a sculpture or a symphony or even a pair of hand-knit socks or a loaf of bread into being without struggle. The materials are stubborn and don’t want to be bothered; the tools are stubborn and would just as soon lie idle. The human who wants to make whatever it is also has a stubborn body and frequently other stubborn circumstances that don’t *care* what the writer/painter/sculptor/composer/knitter/baker wants–this aches, that twinges, there’s no food in the house, all the clothes are in heaps on the floor, the computer glitches, the chisel breaks, the paintbrush disappears, the crucial #5 needle rolls under the seat on the train…and so on. Not to mention the other humans, who want attention, help, routine maintenance, emergency instant response.

      Giving life to wood, canvas, rock, yarn, ground up grain…all that means more than just “an effort”–it means struggle…and the struggle is welcome. It’s a challenge; the *challenge* is welcome. I am learning a new way to write. It is hard, but…I’m learning something new, and–amazing as it may seem–in the ten months since the shutdown started, I have not been bored. Why? Because I have outdoor space to move around in, and a book to write. A book to write that is giving me challenges I never had before. Now that I can write (differently) it’s taking the same kind of effort I had to put into previous books, but aimed differently. I might even learn to outline…after all these years.

  2. Thank you for the suggestion to read Dorothy Sayers; her book is available at our college library so I will be picking it up in a couple of weeks when the semester resumes. Today is a quilting day, I’m trying to finish a quilt that was supposed to be a birthday present last January 6, so now I’m motivated to finish it for this year. It’s a samplef quilt and I wanted to quilt each block to highlight the pattern, so I’m doing a quilt as you go process. I am sure it’s not at all like revising a book, but it is involving a lot of shuffling and ‘unsewing’ as our quilt club instructor calls it. Rather a lot of thinking about where each block should go, are two blocks that are similar in fabric or design too close together, and oops, that seam is coming unsewn. So, as I’m playing with fabric, I’m wishing you a good day of revision in your creative process.

  3. oh Elizabeth! Are you in my house today? This aches, that twinges, the canines want attention, the other human needs assistance and I cut a piece of fabric too short! I’m not bored either.

    1. I wince at the “cut a piece of fabric too short”…*that* is a tragedy. Been there, done that, and there are no do-overs once the shears meet the threads. Sympathies!

  4. Maybe some of the bits that end up on the cutting room floor as well as the terraforming bit could become a collection of short stories like the Paksworld collection. I’m glad to hear that you are finding a new way that works with your present reality. Concussions are really weird in how they play out and no two are alike even with the same person in a relatively short amount of time.

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