Revising Leah

May 11, 2008

Next Step

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 9:18 am
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Well, I just finished reading the novel. The purpose of this first stage was to get a “lay of the land” — to see what I have to work with as I begin revising. It’s been years since I read the whole novel straight through. As I expected, it was pretty bad in some places. Some passages left me shaking my head, wondering what I was thinking when I originally wrote them. But as bad as the novel is in some places, I never got the sense that it was beyond repair. The novel may be a bit of a wreck, but it isn’t totaled. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I know I can do it. I’m as excited as ever to be working on the book.

My next step will be a relatively easy one: I’m going to break the chapters down into smaller chapters. The 1996 draft of Leah consisted of 12 chapters, the longest one being chapter 8, which is over 30 pages long. Looking back over some of my early writing, I find I organized drafts in that way quite often. When I wrote a long story, it would consist of 10-15 chapters that were very long and crammed full of story. I guess I had some sort of aversion to writing short chapters; maybe I thought that I was slacking if I wrote a chapter that was only 5 or 6 pages long. The Spring used to be like that too. The first draft of that novel was only 9 chapters and an epilogue long (9 chapters in 200 pages). The published version of The Spring, however, consists of 26 chapters and an epilogue because, when revising that novel, I thought it made more sense to break those big chapters into smaller, easier-to-read chunks. I think Leah would benefit from the same treatment. If nothing else, it might make the book easier for me to revise. Psychologically speaking, a chapter that is only 5 or 6 pages long just seems like an easier revision task than trying to take on a massive 20- or 25-page chunk of text.

Another reason why the 1996 draft consisted of only 12 chapters is because it was part of the “time” motif that I was trying to incorporate into the story. Throughout the book, I wanted to create the sense that time was running out for Leah. She was growing up, coming closer and closer to adulthood (and all of its responsibilities) every day. It’s one thing for a child to be extremely shy, but it is much harder for an adult to live that way. She was also running out of time in terms of her school life. She has only a limited amount of time in which to spend with David Parks, for example, and to make an impression on him before their history project is due. And, as I emphasize in the final chapter, winter is fast approaching, which will soon force Leah away from the patio table where she felt comfortable spending her lunchtime hours.

(I also did a lot of other things to call attention to the time motif in the novel, such as identifying the exact times in which events occurred. Reading through the 1996 draft again, I’m not sure if I like those little details; I feel as though I’m keeping minutes in a committee meeting.)

So in terms of this time motif, “12” signified the 12 numbers on the clock face, but of course this is a rather contrived way of breaking up the novel. It just doesn’t work, so I think the best thing to do is to break the chapters down still further. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up with 24 chapters!


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