Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Letting it Lie

You'll remember I talked about the three stages of editing in an earlier post - well, I've come to the end (or perhaps the interim end) of stage three, the one that's toughest. I had to stand back from my novel and take a long hard look at where the story was slowest. No point thinking that I know what's coming and that the investment of the reader's attention will be well rewarded by the imminent dramatic moment or the climactic final chapters. You can't think like that, because your reader, not knowing what you know, will just wander off.

So, it was time to grab the slow chapter-sequences and start dropping, moving and conflating the events to tighten the story and rev up the pace. When I say pace I don't mean to say that every story you write has to have the speed of a Formula One racer - just that there should be enough forward momentum to carry the reader along and not give them the opportunity to think 'we're in the doldrums here - why am I spending valuable time reading this stuff when I could be on You Tube instead?' Back in Victorian times when letter-writing, beadwork and decoupage were the only competitors, writers could shamelessly explore location, mood and genealogy at enormous and frequently tedious length, but now, in the age of the nanosecond attention-span, the restlessly devouring spirit which says 'shock me, grab me, be new, be fast, do it all for me because I am an avid Consumer', nobody's going to hang about if there's the slightest danger of being bored.

There were times when, having dismantled my story-sequence, I thought I'd never manage to put it together again. There were precious passages I wanted to shoe-horn in somewhere, rather than lose them. Some, sadly, just wouldn't fit - my only comfort is the thought that I can use them in a later book.

The result is that I have a book more than eleven thousand words shorter than it was. Isn't it ironic - to triumph when you take away all those laboriously-composed words, to tot up totals of reduction rather than addition?

Now I have to follow another sort of discipline: I have to stand back from the book for a few days (don't want to leave it any longer - want to impress my agent with my industry). I need those few days for a small degree of unfamiliarity to creep in. This is a crucial aspect of revision - you need to come to your book with the eyes of a stranger, if possible. After three incredibly close-focus sweeps through the thing, I'm too close to it to see any of it clearly. When I return to it I will have yet another read through - and perhaps something else will leap out at me. Perhaps not. Perhaps I have done as much as I can do and it will be time to send it to my agent again.

We'll see.

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