Revising Leah

October 8, 2008

Fixing Chapter Fourteen

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:18 pm
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The last of the three chapters to undergo “surgery” is chapter fourteen.

When I imagine the overall structure of the novel, I imagine the story organized into three distinct stages, or “acts”. The first act encompasses chapters one through eight. The second act includes chapters eight through nineteen, and the third act consists of the rest of the novel. Chapters eight and nineteen serve, in part, as transitional chapters helping to guide the story from one phase to the next.

So what does this have to do with chapter fourteen, which is set squarely in the middle of the second act? Well, the problem that I saw in chapter fourteen, in addition to the stilted narration, was that it felt too much like a transitional chapter. It’s very short, and it does serve as a bridge between the Homecoming weekend and Leah’s trip to David’s house, but transitioning shouldn’t feel like the primary function of the chapter. There are a couple of important plot points that the chapter needs to cover, too.

So what I’ve tried to do with this chapter is make it feel more like part of the story and less like an instrument for progressing the plot. It’s not easy, and after working on the chapter for a couple of days, I’m not sure I’ve been successful in fixing the problem. One lingering trouble spot is a short conversation between Leah and her history project partners. I think it’s this conversation more than anything else in the chapter which feels “too transitional”. And yet it’s important that I leave it in. If I tried to reduce the conversation to a narrative paragraph then that would only make it worse. The conversation frames the transition in an at least a somewhat interesting story. It’s tough; I’m sure I’ll return to this chapter again before I finish the book.

Another element of chapter fourteen that has troubled me comes at the beginning of the chapter when I describe a dream that Leah has. I’ve gone back and forth with this dream. Some days I want to delete it from the novel completely, other days I want to leave it in. It doesn’t take up a lot of space — it’s only a paragraph long — and it does offer some insight into Leah’s state of mind at this point in the story, which is reinforced later in the chapter. On the other hand, the dream, as it appeared in the 1996 draft of the novel, was really cheesy. Over the summer, I cut a lot of the cheese out of my description of the dream, but it still has a reputation, for me, as a rather silly and embarrassing moment in the novel.

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