Revising Leah

October 6, 2008

Fixing Chapter Six

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:14 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
Ripping into my text

Ripping into my text

I’m taking on chapter six next. I can’t remember for sure, but I think chapter six was probably one of the first scene ideas that I had when I started writing the rough draft of this novel many years ago. It has a lot in common with the two short stories starring Leah Nells that I wrote when I was in high school. The chapter is also important because the memory of the day sticks with Leah throughout the rest of the novel.

On the first day of school, Leah made the decision to eat lunch at one of the tables on the patio outside the school cafeteria. She enjoys sitting outside by herself, eating lunch and reading from one of her books, but her decision to spend everyday outside for lunch eventually poses a dilemma: she’s at the mercy of the weather. And while eating outside is nice when the weather is warm and dry, when it rains, she can’t sit outside. Worse, winter is approaching, and it will soon be too cold for her to sit outside at all.

I’m not giving away the ending when I say that the last chapter of the novel takes place on November 30. On that day, the looming threat of winter is very real, and the narrator suggests that November 30 will be the last day that she will be able to sit outside, at least until spring. The reader is left to wonder, where will she go on December 1? I don’t answer that question explicitly in the story, but earlier in the novel I do hint at the solution to her dilemma. I know where she’s going to go, but I’ll leave it to my readers figure it out for themselves.

Anyway, in chapter six, Leah is forced into the cafeteria when a morning thunderstorm makes it impossible for her to eat on the patio. I like the scene, but I’m having problems. The main problem here is that the language that I use is just too formal. When I read this chapter, I feel like I’m reading an academic dissertation, not a chapter from a young adult novel. I need to dumb it down a bit in order to make the language a bit more consistent with the rest of the story. That sounds easy, but I’ve got a LOT of sentences to rewrite. Let’s take an example:

The boys didn’t say anything to her; instead, they resumed their lunch and their conversation — an indication to Leah that her presence at the end of the table was not considered a serious intrusion.

Well la-dee-da, Mr. Snooty Author Man! Would you like some wine and caviar while you write this chapter?

This is the kind of crap I’m trying to purge from my novel. I’m want to keep the language simple. A reader shouldn’t have to consult a dictionary to read my story. Here’s how I rewrote it:

The boys didn’t say anything to her; instead, they continued talking to each other — a sign that they didn’t have any problem with her if she wanted to sit at their table.

That’s not perfect either, but it’s better than what I had before. Rewriting sentences can be very difficult work, and sometimes it is really hard to think of the best way to rewrite a sentence. Sometimes, days must pass before I figure it out, but I am comforted by the knowledge that EVERY human utterance can be rephrased so as to better express whatever idea one wishes to communicate. Every problem sentence has a solution. It’s just a matter of solving the puzzle.

Two down, one to go.


1 Comment »

  1. yikes. arduous process, but oh so necessary. i can commiserate, for sure. i really like how you provide a marked-up page for perusal.

    Comment by alexmoorewrites — October 8, 2008 @ 9:12 pm

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