Revising Leah

July 30, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:09 am
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I’m still a few months away from publication, but I’ve been thinking about what the cover of the novel will look like. If I self-publish again, then it will be up to me to design the cover and choose the image, so I’m always on the lookout for potential images. I’m already considering several different possibilities, including the picture on the right which I found on Flickr the other day. I like this image because it connects to the story on at least four different levels.

Aesthetic considerations aren’t the only factor in my decision, though. When I finally choose an image, I’ll have to negotiate the use of that image with the photographer/artist who created it. Some photographers may not allow me to use their images; others might charge more money than I can afford for an image’s use. What’s nice about the image on the right is that it is something that I myself could easily recreate with my own camera (I probably wouldn’t use the image in this post anyway simply because the heart isn’t quite symmetrical.)

But whatever image I choose, I want to keep the design consistent with the cover design for The Spring.


July 28, 2008

Mrs. Nells

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:45 am
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A few posts back, I wrote about the possibility that Heather, the girl who competes with Leah for David’s affection, functions as a villain (or at least an antagonist) in the novel. Another character who might lay claim to this title is Leah’s mother, Rebecca Nells. Leah and her mother are often at odds over Leah’s introverted behavior. Leah prefers to have as little contact with people and strangers as possible, while her mother pressures her to be more sociable. We see the conflict at the very beginning of the novel. In chapter one, while the two of them are out shopping at garage sales, the tension and pressure between mother and daughter builds until finally Mrs. Nells explodes:

“It’s the easiest thing in the world, Leah. You hand the woman the money, she thanks you, you take your book and go on your way. You are fourteen years old — you’re about to start high school in less than two weeks — yet you can’t even buy a book at a garage sale like any normal girl your age. I’m completely at a loss! I can’t understand what’s wrong with you!”

It’s not a pretty scene, and it establishes the point of conflict between these two characters.

As the book goes on, though, we get to know Mrs. Nells a little bit better. Like her husband, she works full time. She’s apparently unhappy with her career; she works in some middle-management position for a poorly run corporation that has been losing profits. She’s under pressure to perform, but her efforts are going mostly unappreciated by her bosses and her co-workers. She’s getting older and her age is starting to show on her face. She’s jealous of her husband who seems to be aging more gracefully than she, but otherwise her relationship with Mr. Nells remains strong. Leah reminds herself, at one point, that although her parents fight sometimes, they never yell and scream and lose control. Like her husband, she tends to romanticize her memories of her teenage years, and if her anecdotes are to be believed, she was quite popular when she was in high school — dating boys and going to dances whenever possible.

But it’s her strained relationship with her daughter that the reader mostly sees. Mrs. Nells doesn’t understand Leah. She privately disapproves of Leah’s reading habit and would prefer her daughter make friends and spend more time outside her bedroom. The reader might find the tactics that she uses to make this happen somewhat cruel, but Mrs. Nells would call it “tough love.” Later in the novel, she explains to Grandma why she places so much pressure on Leah:

“Because she has to learn how to do those things by herself . . . We just want her to learn to be independent, to stand on her own as an individual. If she keeps relying on us to do everything for her, then she’ll never learn how to survive in the real world. She’ll never make friends, and she’ll never learn how to relate to other people. She can’t waste her whole life in her bedroom reading books.”

One of the themes of the novel is the nature of individuality: what does it mean to be an individual and how does an individual fit into a larger society of other individuals? I like Mrs. Nells’ explanation above because it offers a solution to the question raised by the theme of individuality. I think most of us would probably agree with Mrs. Nells’ overall solution for her shy daughter even though we may not necessarily agree with her tactics. From her perspective, Leah’s shyness is preventing the girl from standing on her own two feet; she relies too much on her parents for support and isn’t making the kind of progress towards adulthood that a 14-year-old should be making.

So like Heather, Mrs. Nells is one of Leah’s antagonists, but she’s more complicated than a simple villain.

July 25, 2008

What’s Past Is Passed

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:23 am
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Certain homophones give me trouble when I write. Until recently, I’ve had a lot of trouble with “passed” and “past”.  The other day, I finally settled the distinction (in my own mind, at least) once and for all.

The word “passed” is a verb — specifically, it is the past tense form of the verb “to pass”. When “passed” appears in a sentence, it always serves as a verb. For example:

Leah was surprised by how much time had passed.

The word “past” can be used as a noun, a preposition, or an adverb. It is its adverb and preposition roles that has caused the most confusion for me. A sentence like this,

Luckily, Melanie and her friend didn’t want to stop and chat, and they walked past her and disappeared into the crowd.

used to give me a lot of trouble. In the sentence above, “past” functions as a preposition while the word “walked” is the verb. If I were to rephrase the sentence and write, “they passed her and disappeared into the crowd,” then I would need a verb and “passed” would be the correct word choice.

So the way I decide which word is the right word is simply to think about the parts of speech. I ask myself, is past/passed being used as a verb or as some other part of speech? If I’m using it as a verb, then “passed” is what I want; if it’s not a verb, then “past” is the right choice.

July 23, 2008

Actions and Reactions

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:27 pm
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I’m not doing a lot of large-scale revising of the kind that I was doing a month ago, but there are a few spots in the text where revision is still necessary. One example is in chapter 10. Here, Leah is infatuated with David, eager to see him both in and out of history class (the only class that they share). In the earlier drafts, I describe Leah actively searching for David before school, in between classes, at lunch, and after school. The trouble, though, was that it almost seemed like she was stalking him. Her active pursuit of David was definitely out of character for her, and when I was working through chapter 10 a few weeks ago, I knew that I had to fix it. I guess I was working on something else in the text at the time because I chose to put it off until later. In this round of revisions/editing, I took care of it.

What I did was try to transform Leah’s active search for David into something more passive. For example, when she is waiting for school to start in the morning, she sees David exiting the school bus. When the bell rings, Leah hesitates following the crowd into the school building in the hope of getting close to David. In the last draft of the text, she does this in a rather active way, but I tweaked the scene so that now she behaves more passively. When David approaches her, drawn forward by the crowd, I describe Leah standing still, waiting for him to notice her and say something to her. He doesn’t, of course, and she is disappointed.

Later in the day, at lunch, Leah doesn’t search for David in the cafeteria, but when she sits down at her usual table outside on the patio, she fantasizes about David searching for her, finding her alone, and spending his lunch hour with her. Again, I’ve set up Leah to be the passive recipient of David’s action — even if it’s all in Leah’s imagination.

Perhaps this is more “passive-aggressive” than simply “passive,” but it is more in line with her character. Leah, in her interactions with other people, prefers to let them speak to her. She responds rather than initiates; she reacts to others instead of taking action.

July 21, 2008

Reading Assignment #2

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 9:42 am
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I’ve never liked the idea of using medicine and drugs to change one’s moods and behavior because ultimately such drugs don’t really change a person, they only mask who they really are. Give oxytocin to someone who is shy and you haven’t actually “cured” the shyness. The person is still shy; the drug simply evokes extroverted behavior. Take the drug away, and the person will revert to his or her former self — his or her true self.

Why is it so important that we all think and behave the same way? Where does this drive to homogenize human behavior come from? Humanity itself is diminished when we try to limit the scope of emotions and behaviors to only those which are socially/politically/economically acceptable.

July 19, 2008

Lavender-izing My Prose

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:52 pm
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At this stage of the revising process, I’m making a lot of word choice adjustments and correcting little mistakes that I encounter. One example occurs near the beginning of chapter 5. In chapter 4, on the first day of school, Leah noticed that most of her classmates wore backpacks. Wanting to fit in, she asks her mother to buy her one too, and a few days later, she shows up to school with one of her own. I write:

Hers was light purple — not necessarily the color she wanted . . .

This isn’t a bad start to the sentence, but what I don’t like is the “light purple”. That just sounds a little too vague to me. If I’m going to describe the color of an object, why not try to be as precise as possible in that description? So I revised the passage to read:

Hers was lavender — not necessarily the color she wanted . . .

This is much better. It’s little details like this which can enrich the description of a character or an object in a story.

Also recently, I noticed an instance of needless repetition in two passages from chapters 4 and 5. In chapter, 4, when I describe Leah’s first impressions about each of her classes on the first day of school, I write this about her phys. ed. class:

She was terrible at sports and, like so many other things in her life, she preferred to stay on the sidelines as a spectator. And in her case, she didn’t think she needed the chance for exercise that the class offered because she walked almost a mile to and from school every day.

But later, in chapter 5, when her phys. ed. class goes outside for a run-walk activity, I write this:

All in all, Leah decided, this activity wasn’t so bad, although it did kind of seem like a waste of time to her since she received the same amount of exercise just walking to and from school every day.

Obviously, what I need to do here is cut one of these passages, but which one? Both work well within their respective contexts. I decided to cut the passage in chapter 5 because if I cut the passage from chapter 4, then the paragraph describing Leah’s first impressions of phys. ed. class, which is already quite a short paragraph, will be even shorter.

So this is the kind of thing that I’m doing as I read through the book once more. It may seem kind of tedious, but I actually enjoy this phase of writing. I find it strangely fulfilling to make these kinds of little corrections and improvements to the book.

July 16, 2008

Progress Report #5

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 5:44 pm
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I’ve been very busy these last two weeks, so I haven’t been able to work on the novel (or post in this blog) as much as I’d like. This busy period is approaching an end, though, so my pace should pick up a bit.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I’ve entered the second phase of this revising process. What I’m doing now is reading through the text, from the first page to the end, as though I were reading someone else’s novel. I try to read at an average reading pace — the same speed I read when I’m reading for fun. What I’m looking for as I read is anything that trips me up, anything that causes me to stop and question what I’ve written. Most of these little snags are at the level of sentences, words, and punctuation (I’ve found a lot of typos in the text so far). When I encounter these snags, I’ll either correct the error (in the case of a spelling error or word choice problem) or I’ll revise the sentence if it’s a sentence-level problem. Occasionally, I’ll come upon a sentence that I can’t easily fix or that I can’t decide how to fix. In those cases, I just highlight the sentence and move on — I’ll come back to it later.

So far, I’ve been reading silently. Last year, when I was at this stage of my revision process for The Spring, I would sometimes read the text out loud. I found that very useful because when you read a text out loud it sounds very different (both literally and figuratively) than reading it silently. I’ll read out loud eventually, but for this round of reading, I’m finding and correcting too many textual snags so it’s just more efficient for me to read silently.

July 11, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:10 pm
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One of the great mysteries of my own creative process is the almost complete absence of my characters from my dreams. When I’m in the middle of a writing project, I tend to obsess over the story and the characters, I spend a lot of my free time during the day playing out scenes and dialogue in my head and imagining my characters in all sorts of situations. I can see many of the characters, especially the main characters, quite vividly in my imagination, so one would think that when I close my eyes at night my characters would feature prominently in my dreams as well. They don’t. I have had a few dreams over the years in which my characters (or representations of my characters) appear, but such dreams are very, very rare.

More often (and this is what I find really interesting), when I do dream about my stories, I dream about the books themselves. For example, a few months ago, I had a very vivid dream in which I had in my possession a graphic novel version of The Spring. The whole story was there, but in comic book form. It was really cool, and I remember the dream because when I awoke, I was profoundly disappointed that it was only a dream and that a graphic novel version of my story didn’t really exist. (If I had any drawing talent at all, I’d probably make one myself.)

I really wish that I could dream about my characters more. Even though I can experience them in my imagination or when I read from one of my stories, dreaming about my characters would be so much more exciting because then they would be fully under the influence of my subconscious mind, which means they might do or say things that could be quite unexpected, perhaps even offering me new insights into who they are.

July 5, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:26 pm
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I have finished the first phase of this revising project.

To summarize: I’ve spent the last two months revising Leah, a young adult novel that I first published back in 1996. I was never quite satisfied with that edition of the novel, and I promised myself I would revisit and revise it someday. So far, I’ve been reading through the book, chapter by chapter, working on some of the “big picture” elements: the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the structure of the novel and the chapters, long passages of narration that I wasn’t happy with, etc. I’ve made a lot of changes, including the deletion of almost thirty pages of text. The result so far has been a leaner, tighter story that is already much, much better than the 1996 draft.

So does this mean I’m almost finished? Not at all. I still have a lot of work to do, but from this point forward, the nature of my work changes from a mix of revising and rewriting to something that more closely resembles editing and proofreading. Open the file to any page and you’ll find a spelling error, a missing words, or a punctuation problem that needs to be fixed. I’m also going to be focusing much more on the details of both the story and the text. I don’t always make the right word choices when I write, so I’ll be paying more attention to that. I also plan to add a lot more detail and description to some of the chapters that need it.

I’ll be starting the next phase of this project soon, but for now, I’m going to set the novel aside and take a few days off to recharge so that I can approach the text with fresh eyes. When I start again, I’ll be starting at page one and reading through the whole novel once more. The hard work doesn’t end yet, but I’m happy with my progress so far.

July 2, 2008

Chapter 23

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:38 am
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When we’re teenagers, I think we all want someone to tell us that everything will be all right. Our bodies are still growing, we haven’t decided who or what we want to be when we become adults, we’re taking on exciting new responsibilities at the same time that we wish we could abandon those responsibilities and revert to our easier roles as children. It’s a frightening time, and the future looms like a giant question mark. We don’t know if it will be a wonderful future or the realization of our worst fears. The question “Is life worth living?” doesn’t have an answer yet.

So how great would it be to be told that everything will be okay, that the future that seems so scary now won’t be so bad — or at least better than where we are now at age fourteen or fifteen or sixteen? We don’t expect to have all the answers — we’re not looking for a crystal ball to lay out our entire futures for us — all we want is that simple assurance, just a single declaration from some all-knowing authority: “Everything will be all right.”

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