Revising Leah

December 1, 2008

Walking in a Winter Wasteland

So, December, we meet at last . . .

Today I finished my Thanksgiving week read-through of the final 9.5 chapters of my novel, and as that concludes, so too does the seventh revision cycle come to an end. Between now and the start of January, I might tinker with the book a little bit, but really, I don’t plan to do anything more with it until I start the publication process through Lulu. That means I have a month to kill.

I’ll try to continue posting (I have a couple of ideas for upcoming posts), but since if I’m not working on my project, there’s very little for me to write about. Since I started this blog, I’ve been good about posting something new every 2 or 3 days. In January, I intend to document the self-publication process through Lulu, for anyone who is curious, but until then, I’m going to have to really scavenge for post topics.

I also intend to catch up on some reading. This revising project has taken up most of my free time since May, and I’ve got a backlog of books to work through. Right now, I’ve been reading a self-published novel by Ray Holland called The Hermit. It’s a political satire/bawdy comedy sort of story. After working on my project for so long, it’s good to just read something for fun. I don’t have to edit the book, or look for plot inconsistencies, or ask myself, “How could I arrange this passage differently?” I can just read the story and enjoy it.

And that, I hope, is how readers will read Leah. One of the great tragedies of being a writer who is an irredeemable perfectionist like I am is that it is impossible for me to read my own work in the way that a typical reader would read it. When I open the file, I see hundreds of little things that I could change about the text, but that’s a very different mindset from the typical reader. A typical reader might notice something glaring, like a misspelled word, but he or she won’t be worried about whether I’ve chosen the best adjective for a sentence, which is the kind of thing that I obsess over. What I hope is that a reader will read my book as easily as I can read someone else’s book, but that’s the one thing that I can’t foresee and prepare for when I revise.

November 19, 2008

Is Leah Just Introverted, Or Is There Something More?

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:42 pm
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Yesterday’s short post reminded me of a concern that I have had ever since I wrote the very first draft of Leah. My concern is that I’ve created a character who is too introverted. While I’m willing to bet there are a few teenagers out there who are as extremely introverted as Leah Nells, most introverts and shy people don’t live in near total isolation as Leah does.

In the first chapter of the novel, I don’t offer any exposition for why Leah isn’t saying anything to anyone. I simply describe how she behaves when she’s in the presence of strangers, and how that behavior angers and disappoints her mother. In the second chapter, I do offer some necessary exposition of Leah’s past, including this passage:

Before she was even old enough to walk, she would enter fits of panic and tearful screams whenever a stranger came near. When she was older and her parents took her out in public, she would cling desperately to them, holding their hands and hiding behind her parents’ legs when she was introduced to another child . . . . Her parents believed that Leah would eventually grow out of her shyness, that she would make friends and lead a normal life just like any other healthy little girl. But she didn’t. By the time Leah started kindergarten, the fits of panic had stopped, but in their place came silence. Leah almost never spoke to anyone, whether children or adults, even when they spoke to her directly. . . . While other children played with one another, Leah seemed perfectly content to be by herself. When she played with dolls, she never spoke to them and never pretended that they were speaking to each other.

What I worry about is that readers will “misdiagnose” Leah’s problem at this point, that they’ll assume that she has a serious developmental condition or disease — like autism, perhaps. But that’s not what I want the reader to think. Hopefully, as the novel goes on, I make it sufficiently clear that Leah’s only “problems” are that she has an extremely introverted personality, and she is very shy (introversion and shyness are not the same thing — see my comment below). Otherwise, Leah is supposed to be a typical teenage girl. Indeed, it’s important, thematically, for the reader to believe that she is a normal girl other than those two personality quirks.

For example, despite what many of her classmates at school believe, Leah isn’t stupid. I’ve never seen her report card, but I would guess that she is a B or B-minus student — an average student academically. She does better in some classes than others (she prefers math over English), but she doesn’t warrant special attention from her teachers, and she isn’t enrolled in the special education program.

Part of Leah’s internal conflict comes from her belief that she is really, really weird, and that she is the only person in the world who is as uncomfortable and as at a loss in social situations as she is. The reader, I hope, knows the truth: that most of Leah’s fears and worries are experienced by other people, even extroverts. It is that secret knowledge that lets the reader empathize with Leah and all of her experiences in the novel.

Originally, Leah was a novel that allowed me to explore ideas about individualism (that remains a theme, but the novel has grown into something much more), and in order to create a character who was truly an individual, I needed to isolate her as much as possible. So I not only gave her an introverted personality, I gave her an extremely introverted personality — and I made her shy on top of that. Some readers may find Leah an unrealistic character, but, like I said, I’m willing to bet that there are a few people out there who are living Leah’s life.

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