I just finished my bi-weekly session with my novel mentor, Sam Hiyate. We’re up to 125 pages of revisions of my novel (first draft – 500 pages).
Sam’s strong point is that, like Michelangelo, he can visualize the statue of David – the essence of my romance/crime plot – within the formless over-written doorstop that was my first draft.
After our first conversation, he suggested that the first 15,000 words or so – back story mainly, clogged up the story and would make it difficult for anyone to get to the good parts. I agreed. SLASH. TRIM. After I did that, whenever I got the gut feel that things were sagging or that I was losing interest in the writing, I realized he was right again.
Grab the reader’s attention with action – Kenora starts her new job. She’s feisty but plagued by doubt in her abilities to carry this new gig off. Do we need to know how she got there – the trials and tribulations and life challenges that shaped her? Sure, but not in pages and pages of introspection and hand-wringing and exposition. SLASH. SLICE. Done.
Our second conversation led me to include more action. Ramp up the danger. Make her more decisive. No one likes weak characters who let life do things to them instead of taking control. I could do that. Kenora has a strong voice. Life has kicked her in the butt (mother dies, husband finds his soul mate at Bible class, she quits her job) but she’s no shrinking violet. Show her being challenged, show her responding, show her winning more than losing. PRUNE. SNIP. One of his frequent comments is, ‘who care’? Or, ‘how does this engage the reader or advance the story’? One hundred pages become forty. Of course I love my words – they’re like little children I’ve raised from single letters, but they can’t be part of the novel unless they inform, educate, entertain or energize. ABBREVIATE.
Along with nine other writers, I attended a weekend workshop with Barbara Kyle. As is usual, the work was of varying quality and readability or interest. Just before it was my turn to enter the Booth of Silence (so as not to justify or explain as my work was being critiqued) she pulled me aside. She confided that there probably would not be many comments about my ‘partial’. Oh oh, thinks I. In my experience, in a group of writers critiquing work with which they are not familiar, an extended silence usually means that no one can think of a nice way to say that the work is…not up to par. Barbara added quickly, “Your work is very good. A strong character with a strong voice, fast-paced, the right amount of detail to advance the plot.” And she was right about the comments. There are things I have to explain better and some more line editing to do, but I’m on the right track. Yowza!
I can’t tell you how thrilled her feedback made me feel. Thanks to Sam’s guidance, I’ve seen that I have to insert light and air to my writing. She’s an expert at this stuff. All of the SLICING, DICING, ABBREVIATING that I’d been doing as a result of Sam’s input was working. I have to learn to trust my instincts. If, after writing or editing another clump of pages it seems like things are sagging or slowing down, it’s because they are.
Just because I’m interested in the character’s back stories or the narrative is important to me or because it’s fun to write scintillating dialogue does not mean that anyone else will care, unless that content advances the story or delivers shock, awe, an answer or heat. Just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean it has traction as a sale-able product.
A great lesson. A hard lesson. REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE. Nothing goes to waste with writing. I’m going to write short stories about my characters and their exploits, I post prequel material or use some of what I’ve SHAVED in the books that follow in the series.
I’m so pumped by becoming better at CARVING superfluities and boring prose. 125 pages have been SLIMMED to 70. Now, it’s back to REDUCING.