Revising Leah

January 31, 2009

Asymmetrical

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:40 pm
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This week, I’ve been waiting for the new proof copy of my novel to arrive. I know the book has shipped, and I hoped it would arrive by Saturday (today) . . . but no. Hopefully it will arrive Monday.

It’s too bad it didn’t arrive today because I began this process of publishing the book through Lulu on the first day of January, and it would have been beautifully symmetrical for me to have finished the process on the last day of January.

And the arrival of the new copy should be the end of the process. Last night, I had a dream that the new copy did arrive and the cover image was all messed up (but then, in one of those fun moments of lucid dreaming, I realized that since I was only dreaming, I could use the power of my imagination to fix the cover and make it perfect — which I did). But the real copy should look just fine, and the text of the novel has reached a point where I can call it “finished.”

So I continue to wait.

January 14, 2009

A Dream Deferred (and Deleted)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 4:03 pm
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At the beginning of chapter fourteen, I had a paragraph-length description of a dream that Leah experiences a couple days after her school’s Homecoming Dance. The dream has long been a source of indecision for me because I always thought that the dream I described here was more than a little cheesy. In previous revision cycles, I considered cutting it from the story, but I chose instead to compromise: I left it in but tried to sweep the cheesiness out of the scene. I think I did a pretty good job.

But yesterday, when I was reading the passage again, it occurred to me that it might conflict with the scene at the end of chapter thirteen. At the end of chapter thirteen, in one of my favorite moments in the novel, Leah unhappily accepts the fact that she isn’t going to the Homecoming Dance with David or anyone else.

Apparently, in previous revision cycles I must have always taken a break from reading once I finished chapter thirteen, because this time, when I read the dream sequence at the start of chapter fourteen just seconds after reading the end of chapter fourteen, it suddenly occurred to me that the dream sequence completely contradicts and undermines the emotional impact of that final scene in chapter thirteen. I have never noticed this until now, and it alarmed me when I realized what I had done.

It’s too late for me to cut the plan for a dream sequence out of chapter fourteen since it is woven tightly into the start of chapter fourteen. I’d have to completely rewrite the first couple of pages of the chapter.

So what I’ve decided to do here is replace the Leah’s dream with another dream. It was the setting of the dream (a formal dance that was like something out of Cinderella) that caused the trouble. I changed the setting of the dream but not what made the dream so appealing to Leah: it was about she and David spending time together, alone — and talking to each other.

I think that has solved the problem, and it’s a lucky thing I caught it. The transitions between chapters has been something that I’ve been worried about. Because I can’t read the whole novel in one sitting, I have to stop some time. A new chapter is always a logical place to take a break, but taking a break disrupts the flow of reading, and when I stop I risk missing a transition problem like this one.

January 3, 2009

(Dream Interlude)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:48 pm
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This morning, while I was still asleep, I had a vivid dream of a group of teenage girls and one teenage guy standing on a city street corner and talking. The conversation was what shook me awake. It was like a poem, or a song, as the girls were repeating and playing with one particular phrase, interjecting it into each of their statements again and again but improvising variations on the phrase — kind of like how jazz musicians improvise on a basic melody. The result was a scene that was both funny and linguistically cool.

I awoke and immediately got out of bed to fire up my computer. As I waited for it to boot, I could sense the girls’ conversation fading from my imagination, as dreams always do. By the time I had my word processor open and started scrambling to transcribe it (writing so fast I completely ignored things like punctuation, and since I don’t know who all of the characters were, I didn’t bother with dialogue attribution) I had lost much of it, but I still managed to get a portion of the conversation down — just enough so that when I return to it later, I’ll be able to [re]construct the poem/conversation.

I think it will be a scene in my next novel; in fact, I even know which chapter it would fit into.

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.

July 11, 2008

Dreams

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.

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