Revising Leah

May 29, 2008

Trimming the Fat

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:21 am
Tags: , , , , ,

One bad habit of mine is that I sometimes get too bogged down in the pedestrian details of what my characters are doing. I find myself describing everything — whether it is relevant to the characters and the story or not. For example, I might describe a student sitting down to do her homework and I’ll end up producing a lengthy passage in which I describe in tedious detail choosing the right pencil, flipping through the pages of a textbook, writing down one’s name on a sheet of notebook paper, etc., when all that I really need to do is write, “Jane worked on her homework for an hour.” I sometimes get lost in the details of my characters’ lives and that produces a lot of really boring prose. There are some literary precedents for this kind of thing (in Proust or S. Richardson or Kafka or Stein, for instance) but I prefer to keep my writing as lean and quick as possible. When I write about “trimming the fat” from my text, reducing or eliminating these long tedious passages in which nothing important to the story is happening is often what I’m referring to.

This morning, I finished revising the highlighted portions of chapters three and four. It took me three days to get through those chapters, and it really felt like an eternity. Those chapters (together, they are 19 pages long) describe Leah’s first day of high school. I literally accompany her every step of the way: from the moment she wakes up in the morning, to her trip to school, to her first class of the day, to her search for a place to spend her lunch hours, to her walk home, to the interrogation that she receives from her mother in the evening. That’s a lot of detail, and as I worked through it, I kept asking myself, “Do I really need all this? Can I cut some of it out?” In fact, I did delete a few paragraphs, but I decided to keep most of it, even at the risk of it being tedious for the reader. I do think it is important for the reader to follow Leah through her anxiety-filled first day of high school because it illustrates the depth of her isolation from her classmates. So many of the episodes in the opening chapters of the novel are designed to show some of the problems that Leah, who doesn’t have any friends, faces on a daily basis. She isn’t exactly unhappy in her situation, but she is certainly led to think that she is.

So as I revise the novel, I am always on the lookout for passages that I don’t need, that don’t add anything worthwhile to the story. I know that I’ll encounter many such passages later on in the book, and hopefully the changes that I make will result in a better novel.


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