In need of some action

The last two months have consisted of gearing up for the great revisioning of DISTILLATION. I received some feedback that was so specific and so right on that…it hurt a little. Well, okay, a lot. But I learned, from two separate readers, what my strengths were and my weaknesses. They agreed on almost everything, independently. I was pleased to finally see, once the nasty bits had stopped blinding me, that the strengths were many, and that the nasty weaknesses few, but alas major enough to take me more than a month to process and come to the point where I could create a plan.

I planned, and I planned. I used large art paper to construct detailed outlines of what I have and what I need. Finally, this week, I started the revision. The first fifty have been charged with a task. Within them, I have to get to a certain event, one that all along people have told me to move up, but one I felt needed a slow, smouldering build. This event started at page 150. Yikes! Then it moved to page 118. I thought that was an improvement. And now. It has been cut away with a boning knife (pun intended if you know my hook) and is waiting in the wings for its reveal somewhere before page 50.

OMG. Can it really be done? It has to be. The problem, I have discovered, is that atmosphere, setting, and mood are my thing. That is what I am most comfortable writing. I’ve always thought of writing novels and making a movie with words. Maybe that is misguided, but I think in scenes, I think in images. That is not to say that character and dialogue are not important, they are and I have always put a lot of focus on those parts as well. Plot too. Now that is REALLY important. If you don’t have a story that moves forward with events and questions and discoveries and a good ending – well then, your story is boring.

No, these things I have always thought about and I think are elements that are in my story, if not perfected. But…what I didn’t really think about, at least not in the terms that are apparently required, is the ACTION. I have been happy to spend five or fifteen pages describing a scene in which there is plot happening, but I love the description of shadows, of light, of smell, of sound, of facial expressions, of feelings. I am a sensory writer. No surprise I started out in poetry. And I think many of my scenes are beautiful, chilling, ominous, filled with…atmosphere… and like I said – there IS plot happening, but I think I sent it to the back of the room too often. I spent too much time creating a world, and it took too long to make the action happen. Slowly, it has been coming to the forefront. But now, I am the kamikaze writer. I’m going in and bringing ACTION to my novel – no matter how many darlings I have to kill.

This task is harder than it sounds. This week, on vacation, I spent a few days, whole days, writing the first chapter. The first 16 pages. If at least 3 chapters must come before page 50 then, I have at most 16 pages for each. So I wrote the first chapter, and I needed to “disrupt my character’s ordinary world.” I am trying to provide the reason for her departure and introduce Objective # 1 – which is to resolve internal conflict. I wrote it and I thought it was good – but I wasn’t sure of it. I read it to my husband – and for once – he gave me really good feedback. “I don’t care about the mother or her husband right now. I care about that guy she saw outside the building. What’s up with that? Cut the conversation short and get on to the next scene.” He was so right. What happened was that I got caught up in the description of my MC and her conversation with her mother. Throwing in some back story, trying to draw thematic parallels, all the while painting a picture of every nuanced move. Arg!! It sneaks in there even when I try not to do it. How frustrating.

So, today, I re-wrote. I cut it down by six pages. I stuck to the action. I moved it forward. I established my MC and her main inner conflict. I introduced an important supporting role, but only introduced, and I set the stage for the novel’s themes. In ten pages, I got my character to the door of leaving her normal world. Now the next chapter will start right in the new world, and the third chapter will close the door behind her so she can’t go back. I vow to stick to the action. I vow to make every paragraph, every page move my MC forward. I vow to tell myself over and over – less is more – do not digress – keep – moving – forward. No paragraphs of back story, no paragraphs of ambient description. One foot in front of the other. By page fifty – a major discovery will have occurred and a major objective of solving the main mystery will be securely on the table.

This doesn’t mean I will abandon my love of atmosphere, nor will I ignore the past that drives my character’s decisions, but I will pepper them in, one sentence at a time. No more.

Revisioning is hard – but…it is also exciting. Once you have the plot set out and fleshed out with all your wildest desires, and then pared down to something better. A firm, clear headed revisioning is…almost freeing. I get to take what I loved and make it so much better.

How do you revision your writing?

4 thoughts on “In need of some action

  1. I'm am 'over-writer' for want of a better word. I have to keep everything, description, dialogue, setting, until I get to the revisions. Then whatever doesn't move the story forward, out it goes. Only I know the backstory and why characters are doing what they're doing and why. Sometimes I may add a sprinkle here and there.Great crits go a loooonnggg way, so you are incredibly lucky there.Best of luck with this. I know how badly you want to see it in print. And so do I.

  2. Wow, it sounds like you've gotten some valuable critique and put a lot of serious thought into your revision. I can't say I've ever undertaken such a fundamental revision, but I'm sure I will at some point. For the revisions I have done, I always start with the little stuff first because it feels manageable, and I work up to the bigger stuff. I'm pretty merciless about cutting. But then, my strength is probably action, and sometimes I feel like my characters are faceless talking blobs floating in a cloud. So. Treasure that skill for setting and mood that you have, and keep going! It sounds like you are on exactly the right track.

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