Derry, Northern Ireland

Derry, Northern Ireland
A book I'm working on is set in this town.

Monday, June 20, 2011

What Would Tolstoy Do?

Well...I seriously doubt he would pore over his manuscripts, all written in longhand with a quill pen, and make non-stop changes and corrections.  I have this image of writers like him and Dickens and Jane Austen and Henry James forming their works complete on a page and making minimal adjustments once written.  It's like they had to think about every word before committing it to ink because to rework the story meant rewriting every damned page and that would have been ten kinds of chore.

But now we have operating systems and programs that make changes so damned easy, it's like nothing you write can be considered permanent until you decide to give up on it or get so sick of going over and over and over it that you send it off, in disgust.  A stroke of a keypad and BAM -- this paragraph vanishes into that chapter.  This word becomes that phrase.  This moment of tenderness and grace becomes a comedy of misunderstanding and ill-mannered numbskulls.  It takes a whole new kind of discipline to write, these days -- one that reminds you sometimes you can rewrite a story into the ground.  Which I have done with a couple of scripts.

But...and this is not a positive admission...this is the part of the process I most love.  Which is why I keep rewriting and rewriting and rewriting my work.  Every time I find something that can be clarified or better said or shifted just a bit to gain deeper meaning.  I also find inconsistencies, even after a dozen passes through the story.  But eventually it gets to the point where you wonder if you're losing the essence of the characters and over-explaining the plot to the point of confusion...and you lose sight of what you were trying to say.

Case in point was what I almost did to "Desert Land."  This is a 4000 word short story that I rewrote 20 times to get right and then stopped.  And sent it out.  And got a couple of rejections.  So I decided to revisit it...and wound up changing the ending.  For the worse.  I actually sent it out with the new ending before realizing it was wrong, wrong, wrong and totally at odds with the rest of the story.  Fortunately, the literary magazine that liked it had the original ending so I can now dismiss the others should anyone be fool enough to want it.

I'm close to falling into the pattern with "Lyons' Den", so I've deliberately made myself do only 1-2 chapters a day to keep from getting swept up in the story and "trying to make it even better" without any real thought.  Yet somehow, being only halfway through this polish, I've still managed to add nearly a thousand words and 6 pages to the book.  This makes me nervous.  When I'm done with this draft I'll have to let it sit for a while to cool down then go through it with a fine-tooth comb to make sure I haven't ruined it.

I may even jump back to "Hunter" for a while just to jolt my brain out of the mindset it's trying to settle into.  Nothing like a pair of pissed off queers to clarify things in your brain.

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