Revising Leah

August 26, 2008

Leah’s Class Schedule

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 6:16 pm
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Because time is such an important part of the novel, I thought it would be a good idea, for my own purposes, if I spelled out exactly what Leah’s schedule is and identify precisely when she is in each of her classes. A lot of the details about Leah’s high school are generic: the day starts at 8:00 and ends at 3:00, for example.

The novel Leah is set in the same fictional universe as The Spring, so the time schedule below applies to both of my novels. It amazes me that I never needed to create such a schedule when I was preparing The Spring for publication last year. I did have to keep track of what courses my characters in The Spring were taking, but I didn’t need to know when they were in class.

So here it is — it wasn’t easy putting this together:

Leah M. Nells – 9th Grade – Everyman High School*

800-910 1st period (Biology)**
910-915***
915-1010 2nd period (Algebra)
1010-1015
1015-1110 3rd period (Phys. Ed.)
1110-1115
1115-1200 Lunch
1200-1205
1205-100 4th period (Consumer Econ.)
100-105
105-200 5th period (English)
200-205
205-300 6th period (World History)

* – Not the real name, although I do like the sound of it. I never do say, in either novel, what the name of the high school really is.

** – The first period is fifteen minutes longer than the other classes because it is also the period assigned for morning announcements.

*** – Five minute passing periods. Hurry!

The 6-class schedule is something I borrowed from my own high school experience. I know that nowadays it isn’t uncommon for high school schedules to have 7 or 8 classes in a day, or sometimes they only have 4 classes in a day if they are on a block schedule.

This post has been edited for precision.

August 25, 2008

The First Day of School

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 3:04 pm
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I’ve been working on chapter three which, along with chapter four, describes Leah’s first day of high school. I kind of dread the chapter because every time I read it, I feel a nervous tingle, as if I am living vicariously another person’s first day of school. It’s a really weird feeling, and it isn’t what I was trying to do when I first wrote it. I did want to show how nervous Leah is on this day, but I wasn’t trying to necessarily evoke a sense of anxiety from the reader.

One of the things that makes writing or revising a work of creative writing difficult for me is the fact that I work in relative isolation. Just because my writing has an emotional impact on me doesn’t mean that it will have that same or a similar impact on anyone else. I’m curious, then, to know whether the effect it has on me is experienced by anyone else.

To that end, I’ve posted the latest draft of chapter three

HERE

If you, Dear Reader (who have perhaps come upon this blog by accident), would care to read through it and let me know in the comments if it inspired any sort of sense of nervousness in you (or not), I’d be very interested to hear about it.

August 14, 2008

Chicken or Egg? (Time, Part 1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:45 am
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(It’s been a few days since I posted last. As September approaches, I’ve had a lot of distractions which have kept me away from the novel, and since I’m trying to read the novel out loud, the moments are rare when I have a chance to sit down and read alone. Sometimes I’m working near other people, and I don’t want to sit there, by myself, seemingly talking to myself as I work. People think I’m strange enough as it is. Therefore, this cycle of revision has gone very slowly. I’ve been working for several days and I’m only up to chapter 12 [not even halfway through]. Hopefully, my pace will pick up again soon.)

One of the things that I need to do as a writer in order to keep track of the plot is establish a calendar of events. As I write, I take note of when events occur in relation to each other. It’s especially important when writing about school, because weekdays and weekends are completely different experiences. I can’t simply write, “and the next day . . . and the next day . . . and the next day . . .” because eventually I’ll bump up against a weekend (or a holiday) that I need to account for.

Time is a very important element in Leah, so I thought what I would do for the next couple of posts is write about time and how I use it in the novel. In my next post, I’ll describe how I use time thematically, but in this post I’ll discuss some of the nuts and bolts issues regarding how I deal with time when writing and revising my stories.

The first draft of Leah, which I wrote out by hand in a notebook some thirteen years ago, includes a “calendar page”. Here, I scribbled out a calendar, circling and making note of the dates of important events in the novel. This calendar is something that I referred to frequently as I wrote that first draft, and I’ve referred to it a few times during this revising project. One thing that I haven’t been sure about is whether that calendar is still relevant. I’ve mentioned before how I imagine Leah and my other novel, The Spring, as constituting two stories set in the same fictional universe. Leah takes place during ninth grade and The Spring is set three and a half years later during twelfth grade. Since both novels occupy different points on the same time line, their calendars must also match.

When writing and revising The Spring, I also kept a detailed calendar of the events in that novel. The Spring is bit more compact, in terms of time, than Leah. The Spring takes place over a period of only 26 days while Leah lasts a little more than three months. Since I published The Spring last winter, I’ve decided to let the calendar of The Spring anchor the calendars of the other two novels in the trilogy. (It’s actually sort of a chicken-and-egg dilemma with respect to which novel came first. Technically, The Spring was written first, about three years before I wrote the first draft of Leah, but I published Leah first back in the 1990s. But since I’ve disavowed that edition of Leah, the publication of The Spring a few months ago represents a new start — a reboot — of the series. It’s all very confusing!)

So using The Spring as the anchor, and keeping a perpetual calendar handy, I’ve counted back three and a half years and found — to my amazement (and convenience) — that the calendar I created for Leah thirteen years ago fits perfectly with the calendar of The Spring. I don’t know if that is just a lucky coincidence, or if, at some point in my revising work on The Spring, I brought that story’s calendar in line with the calendar of Leah. Revising The Spring was a long, on again-off again process that lasted several years. I know that I didn’t get the idea of placing the two stories in the same fictional universe until after I wrote and published the first edition of Leah, so sometime in the late 1990s, when I first started revising The Spring for possible publication, I must have revised the calendar of The Spring to bring it in line with Leah. I don’t remember doing that, but it sounds like something I would do. Whatever, as of right now, I have a definite calendar set for the story. Leah begins on Saturday, August 22 and ends on Monday, November 30. (I should do something to celebrate August 22 next week — maybe go to a garage sale. ;))

In what year is the story set? That’s something that I don’t ever answer. While I pay careful attention to the days and months in which the stories are set, I’ve resisted assigning a specific year to either Leah or The Spring just because I think that if I do that, then I’m setting the story in the past, and I want it to seem as contemporary as possible for as long as possible. Of course, there are cultural artifacts mentioned in the stories, like cell phones, mp3 players, the Internet, and — perhaps — gasoline powered internal combustion engines which place the stories sometime in the early 21st century, but I don’t want to get any more specific than that.

Something else that I ought to do soon, which I’ve never done before (not even for The Spring) is figure out exactly what the time schedule is for the fictional high school where both stories are set. I’ve established that Leah’s school day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. — a generic school schedule. She has six classes during the day — three classes before lunch and three after (and in chapter four of the book I list what her classes are), but what I haven’t done is identify exactly how long the periods last and when the bells ring. I need to do this for Leah’s history class, at least, since time, with respect to that class, becomes very important in a couple of the chapters.

I consider the treatment of time and its relationship to the plot to be one of the most crucial elements when structuring and organizing a story. Paying attention to those little details can only enhance the illusion of realism. I’ve seen stories (movies and TV shows more so than novels) where time lines were handled sloppily and it definitely takes me out of my enjoyment of a story if I have to try to figure out what is happening when. So it’s important that I get the calendar right for my novel. In the next post, I show you just how important time really is for Leah Nells.

May 16, 2008

A Ninth Grade History Report by Leah Nells

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 11:41 am
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[ATTENTION GOOGLE SEARCHERS: Welcome! but I’m afraid you’ve come to the wrong place. This is a blog about a young adult novel titled Leah. If you’ve found this page while searching for information about Egypt or the Egyptian pharaohs, Leah’s report (which is what you’ll find below) isn’t the best source of information on those topics. Google isn’t really the most efficient way to find information either. What you might try is visiting the Wikipedia pages for “Ancient Egypt” or “Pharaoh” and then scroll to the bottom of those pages until you find the section titled “Sources and External Links.” There, you’ll find a list of websites which should offer good information for you to use. And don’t forget to acknowledge your sources in your essay!]

For the last few days, I’ve been working on Leah’s history report that she presents to her class near the end of the novel (chapter 18, for now). As I’ve mentioned already, it’s a challenging task, partly because producing writing in the voice of a character is not the same thing as producing dialogue for a character. In my day job, I’m a teacher, and I know that an inexperienced writer (such as Leah) has a “writing voice” that is somewhat different from how that writer speaks. It would be a mistake, for example, to craft Leah’s report as if she were simply speaking (and in Leah’s case, it would be very difficult to do because the character never speaks for an extended period of time in the novel). What I have noticed over the years is that inexperienced writers, especially when they are producing writing for school, all tend to write in a voice that is very similar to the writing voices of other inexperienced writers. (This is one of the things, for instance, which makes plagiarized work so easy to detect — a different writing voice suddenly interrupts the student’s voice.)

It has also been a difficult task because of the precise amount of time that I need to fill. I’m trying to fill about two and a half minutes, but it seems like the more I write, the harder it is to reach that point.

In any case, here is what I have produced:

I am going to talk about the Egyptian Pharaohs. The pharaohs were like kings and they

ruled in families called dynasties. The pharaohs were not only the political rulers of

Egypt, but they were also religious rulers as well. They were treated like gods by their

people and it was believed that when they died they went to live with their gods in the

afterlife. Most pharaohs were men, but there were some women who where pharaohs

too. Three of the most famous pharaohs wereRamesses the Second, Tutenkhamun, and

Cleopatra. Ramesses the Second, also known as Ramesses the Great, was Egypt’s most

famous and powerful pharaoh He was the pharaoh for 66 years and he is the pharaoh

who Moses fled from in the Bible. He constructed a lot of famous buildings and monuments

that still stand today. Tutenkhamun, also known as King Tut, wasn’t really that important,

but we know a lot about him because his tomb was discovered in 1922 with the mummy

and other objects still inside. Some people say that his tomb was cursed because a lot

of people who helped discovered it died mysteriously. He became the pharaoh when

he was only 8 years old and he died when he was only 18. He might have been murdered,

but no one knows for sure. Cleopatra was not the first female pharaoh to rule Egypt but

she is the most famous. She became pharaoh when she was only 17. She fell in love with

both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She died when she was bit by a snake. She was

trying to commit suicide. When a pharaoh died, he or she was buried with all of their

belongings. Sometimes they were buried in pyramids and sometimes they were buried

underground. The pharaohs believed they became gods after they died, and when they

were buried they were buried as mummies. They were buried with food and gold and even

some of their servants and workers were buried with them. The pharaohs were a very

important part of Egyptian society.

So far, it is 344 words long, and when I read it at a relatively average speed (including a few mistakes and stutters) it is only about 1:50 long. I’ll try to add more text to it, but for now, this is what I’m working with.

Instead of just dropping this chunk of text into the appropriate place in chapter 18 and clicking “save,” I’ve made sure to integrate this text with the story itself. Although you can’t tell from this post, Leah’s report follows the five-paragraph scheme, so after each paragraph, the narrator of the story interrupts and describes what is happening while Leah is reading. We get to see some glimpses of Leah’s nervousness, the class’ boredom, her partners’ amusement, and her teacher’s struggle to hear what she is saying (throughout her presentation, Leah barely speaks above a whisper). It’s turned into a very interesting scene, one which is much better than in the 1996 draft in which I simply describe, in a brief, boring paragraph, Leah’s presentation.

This is the joy of revising: improving a text, making it better, crafting writing that I will want to return to and read again and again.

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