Revising Leah

August 5, 2008

I’m a Poet

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 12:08 pm
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Reading the story out loud makes me aware of little quirks in the text, such as unintentional rhyming:

She could smell the exhaust of the school buses lined up in the bus depot just a few yards away. She could feel a light breeze on her skin and the warm morning sun, rising in the east, ready to begin this late August day.

But so far, the biggest surprise has been chapter 2. I start the novel, in chapter 1, by jumping right into the action, following Leah and her mother as they shop at garage sales. In chapter 2, though, I violate one of the cardinal rules of storytelling by slowing the story down with narrative exposition that fleshes out Leah’s character a bit more. It isn’t all narrative in chapter 2, though. The last few pages of the chapter find Leah eavesdropping on a conversation between her parents. Their conversation offers a little more exposition, but it’s not so bad because exposition through characters’ dialogue is almost always a better option than exposition through narration. Leah is a difficult character to write about, though, because although the narrative follows her throughout every chapter of the book (possible exception: chapter 17 at David’s house) she rarely speaks, so I can’t use her dialogue with other characters as the vehicle to deliver exposition, especially in the beginning, because the character doesn’t even speak at all until chapter 3 (page 20, to be precise) — and even then she only utters six words.

With Leah, I’m forced to construct her character and her story through narrative exposition and description. Dialogue just isn’t an option most of the time. So as I started re-reading chapter 2, I was worried that it wasn’t going to be very good — that there would be too much exposition, but I was very surprised by how well it sounded as I read the chapter out loud. I’ve done a lot of revising work with that chapter in the first two cycles, and that work seems to have paid off. I even thought that some of the narrative sounded vaguely poetic in places (in a good way). Here’s an example:

Her books were like her friends. She always had a book with her when at home or at school. Whenever she had a free moment, she would read. When she was finished with her homework, or didn’t have any chores to complete, she would read. During lunch at school, while her classmates talked and socialized, Leah would sit by herself and read. Like a young child clutching a favorite doll, Leah always made sure to have a book with her.

Overall, I’m happy with how the chapter has turned out. When I read through it, I made hardly any changes to the text, which means that it’s a little further along than even chapter 1 which I’ve been working on quite a lot lately.

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August 1, 2008

Progress Report #6: Cycles

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:06 am
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I’ve finished the second cycle of revising (I like the word “cycle” better than “phase”). If I did nothing else in the second cycle, I hopefully corrected at least 95% of the typos that were in the previous draft. The narrative got a little rough in the last five or six chapters. I think that’s because I was cutting a lot of text out of those chapters during the first cycle and so the text is still a bit shredded. One thing that I was happy about was the final chapter, specifically the last couple of pages. They aren’t completely polished yet, but I like how I’ve set up the ending.

While revising, I discovered that I accidentally identified two chapters as “Chapter 20”. Having fixed that, I now have 26 chapters total.

I’m going to take a day off, recharge, and then I’ll jump into the third cycle. This time, I’m going to try to read as much of the text out loud as I can. I’ve said before, and most writers will agree, that reading a text out loud is a very different experience than reading it silently. One can find a lot of rough spots in the text that one can’t find when reading it silently. With the narrative, plot, and characters pretty much how I want them, and with most of the typos from the first cycle of revising corrected, I’m focusing more and more on the sound and shape of the text: word choice and the rhythm of the sentences.

This work is a little tedious sometimes, but it’s also very rewarding when I revise a sentence so that it sounds so much better than it did before. I keep reminding myself that every change and correction I make improves the novel just a little bit more.

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