Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Friday, April 20, 2018

"R" is for the Romance of Revision

Here's a cute story about writing.

     A cheeky 2nd grader started bouncing in his seat when his teacher asked the class to write a short story.
     "Now, students," she said. "Your story needs to include four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery."
     Little Johnny got right to work. After just a few minutes, he waved his hands, "Teacher, teacher, I finished my story."
     "Are you sure? Do you have those four key elements -- religion, romance, royalty, and the big M, mystery?"
     Little Johnny shook his head yes. "I got it, teacher."
     "Very well, Johnny. You may read your story to the class."
     Little Johnny stood proudly at the front of the class. Taking a deep breath, he began. "Holy Moses, said the Princess. Pregnant again. I wonder who did it?"

This is a terrible story and a wonderful story. I hope it made you smile. Poor Johnny has yet to learn about the romance of revision.

Writing a novel or story is both an intellectual and intuitive process. As we fall deeper into our stories, don't we fall in love with our characters? Even plotters (whom I admire) say that stories can change unexpectedly as they come to know their characters more thoroughly. As we write, sometimes new ideas, new plot twists, or insights into character, theme, or story arc, shake up what once seemed quite concrete in outline form.

Some writers won't begin writing their stories unless they know exactly how that final scene plays out. Others write lengthy tomes without knowing the ending (an act of courage).

Once that first 'real' draft is complete, however, we begin to revise -- and not just one revision. I think my pea brain can only focus on one idea at a time, so I revise many, many times. I do try to distinguish between two kinds of revision -- one at the CONCEPT level as it appears in chapters and the whole story (think story and character arcs, plot lines, and theme), and the other, more commonly called EDITING, at the word, sentence, and paragraph level. In reality, I bounce between these two types of revision in a quest to 'get the story right'.

Some writers and editors say we 'should' do concept revision first, as in "What's the point of editing a story when it will most likely change?" For me, honing at the chapter and paragraph level (once that first draft is done) takes me deeper into the story. Then, I'll return again to the whole-story level to double-check. That's what I call the 'romance of revision' -- that dream that I can polish my story and 'get it right.' This process takes stamina, tenacity, and time. Most likely, that's why it takes me three darn years to finish most stories.

Even now, as I write the plot summary and character sketches for my new story more deeply than I ever have done before, I'm honing the words, tweaking them, and finding new insights about my story and characters along the way -- from the mundane (she loves to hike) to possibly the more serious (she doesn't trust easily). Ah, I might as well prepare myself for another three years, despite my efforts to improve writing productivity!

Originally, I was going to write about the reality of romance, how little acts of kindness and love hold relationships together. Even writers who join writing groups hope for kindness from their colleagues along with critiques that will help them strengthen their work. 

For we know, again, most of the time, when our story strikes that note, rather like a bell, within us and our readers, we can type 'the end.'