Revising Leah

June 14, 2008

Progress Report #3: Oasis

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:08 pm
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I’ve spent the last two days working on chapter 17, which is, by far, the longest chapter in the novel at 23 pages. In the 1996 draft, chapters 16 and 17 were combined, making it an even longer chapter than it is now. Obviously, that original chapter is now two. If I could, I’d like to break chapter 17 down even further, but there isn’t really a point in those 23 pages where inserting a chapter break would seem natural. The whole thing is a single, ongoing scene that takes up a few hours of the characters’ time.

What makes the chapter tolerable for the reader, I hope, is that it is mostly dialogue. Indeed, in a novel that is mostly prose, it’s a kind of oasis in which we find characters chatting and joking and arguing. The chapter is set at David Parks’ house. He and his history report partners, Leah among them, are meeting on the Sunday before their project is due to try and put the project on video. In terms of the story, the chapter features the climax of David and Heather’s subplot. Their relationship experiences a crisis, and Leah has a front row seat.

I’ve cut very little out of chapter 17, mostly because I like the dialogue and because all the events in the chapter flow together quite well. It may be the longest chapter, but it also has the most humor — and the most melodrama.

So I’m well past the halfway point in this stage of my revising project. I have only seven more chapters to go. I can’t say for sure when this phase will be completed, but it looks like I am on track to finish by the end of the month.

May 27, 2008

Progress Report #2: The First Third

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:46 am
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An update of where I’m at and what I’m doing . . .

Most of my revising work has been in the first third of the novel (about the first 75 pages or so). This section of the novel finds Leah alone, and the narrative focus is almost entirely on her. By focusing so narrowly on a character who rarely speaks (I think the total number of words that Leah speaks in the opening chapters is probably less than 30 words altogether) I am forced to tell my story using only descriptive prose — there is almost no dialogue at all. It’s a bit like Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, or a Jose Saramago novel. For me, it is not the easiest way to write. One thing that I have learned about myself as a writer over the last year or two is that I really enjoy writing dialogue. Some of my favorite passages in The Spring, for example, are passages of dialogue between two or more of the characters. When I was reading through Leah a couple weeks ago and marking passages that need to be revised, I was shocked by just how much the novel seems to come alive in the later chapters of the novel when the characters talk to each other more.  One of my tasks as the author is to try to make the opening chapters of Leah, chapters that don’t really have any dialogue at all, as interesting and compelling as the later chapters. It’s hard to do.

As I’ve mentioned in another post, I’ve given myself permission to skip around a little bit. Even though I’m concentrating on the early chapters of the novel right now, if I feel inspired and want to work on a later chapter, I will do it. Yesterday, I did a lot of work on the very last chapter of the book. The last chapter — in fact, the very last couple of pages — is a section of the book that definitely needs work. Indeed, the last two pages of text have all been highlighted for revision. So the other night, as I lay in bed, trying to fall asleep, I suddenly had an idea for how I might structure the conclusion of the novel. Inspiration often finds me late at night, which isn’t really the best time since I frequently forget my brilliant ideas as soon as I fall asleep. This time, though, I did remember my idea, and when I woke the next morning, I jumped out of bed and got right to work.

Without giving the ending away, let me just say that the novel ends precisely at the moment when Leah experiences what I might describe as an “emotional epiphany.” It’s tricky for me to narrate this event because this epiphanic moment is entirely internal. I fumbled the ending in the 1996 draft by trying to describe logically and step-by-step, in simple and rather boring prose, the realization that Leah reaches. I did this for almost two pages, so that when I reached the final paragraph with the epiphany itself, I had somewhat undermined the impact of the ending for the reader. The ideas that came to me the other night offer a framework or outline for rewriting the end of the book. I still have a lot of work to do in the final chapter, but I feel like I’m on the right track.

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