Reviving Ophelia

>> Tuesday, August 8, 2006

In honor of my wife's new crafting blog, which is absolutely slaying my blog in visitor hits, I will begin today a chronicle of my revision on Something Rotten, my YA mystery due out from Dial (Penguin) in the fall of 2007. As I said in my last post, the publication date for Something Rotten has moved up, and that means the deadlines have, too. I've chucked almost everything else I was working on this month to make the September 1st deadline for the first revision, and I'm well on pace to meet that goal.

The way it worked out, I found out about the new deadline about a week before the start of August. Mapping things out, I figured I could blow the entire month on Something Rotten and still be fine with my other projects, so I wrapped a couple of things up at the end of July and knuckled down as soon as August 1st hit.

The revisions on Something Rotten aren't going to be as extensive as the Samurai Shortstop rewrite, which is a help. The Samurai Shortstop manuscript I originally sold to Dial was all of 150 pages long. The first official revision I turned in a year later, based on my editor's detailed notes, was 250 pages. The book got trimmed down to a leaner fighting weight after that, but much of the muscle I added in that round remained.

Something Rotten will have some meat put on its bones by the time I'm through with this revision. Some of my editor's questions had to do with understanding my characters and their motivations better, while others (rightly) questioned awkward plot points and inconsistencies. Of course, I didn't think of them as awkward or inconsistent when I first sent it in, but I see it now. That's what good editing will do for you. (Note to skeptical authors: love thy editor--I have yet to have an editor make a request in the revision stage that did not make my book better.)

Okay, so I thought that for the sake of illustration, I would offer a direct quote from my first editor letter on Something Rotten. It's far too long to quote in its entirety, so here's a snippet:

I think we need to see more of Olivia as an environmentalist - maybe she is almost crazy about it (which might be heightened by Hamilton's treatment of her as well). Can we see or hear about some other actions she has taken to try to get Elsinore Paper to clean up the river? The mention of the rafting trip toward the end of the manuscript is great, but it would be good to see more of this sooner. That way, she is a definite suspect and we know why she would endanger herself by actually drinking the water for three days. She comes off as way too smart and cool for that right now. I'd also like to see more of how Olivia is still hung up on Hamilton (which Horatio observes), and why she still wants him in the end even though he is so terrible to her. Because honestly, I would be going for Horatio at that point!

Okay. Olivia is my Ophelia character, and in my book she drinks contaminated water to call attention to river pollution in a parallel to Ophelia drowning in the original play. My editor, Liz, rightly points out that seeing her pull some other kind of stunt earlier in the book--something less life-threatening, of course--will help set up this action later. Can do. I'm going to take that reference to a whitewater river raft race, which Olivia bills as a "Brownwater Raft Race" to attract attention to the pollution, and make that into an actual scene, not just mention it as something she's tried in the past.

The other thing Liz asks for is more evidence that Olivia is still hung up on Hamilton, my Hamlet character. I came up with a story-swapping session that follows the aborted river raft race where Horatio (my main character) and Olivia reminisce about Hamilton before his dad was murdered and his uncle married his mom and he went off the deep end. There are other things I can pull into this chapter, too--other things Liz asked for in the editorial letter--and doubling things up in chapters is like gold.

So here's how I attacked this. The first thing I did was reread my entire manuscript, making my own editing marks on it. (I'm always surprised at how many things I find I want to change just months after thinking there was nothing more I could do and sending the manuscript out to publishers.) I created what Darcy Pattison calls a "chapter inventory," which is really just a simplified outline, with each chapter explained in no more than two sentences. (If that's a challenge, it's time to break up that chapter . . .)

Next I work my way through the editorial letter, making a more direct list of what I need to do. From the above paragraph, I wrote:

- Show Olivia as more of a militant environmentalist before she drinks river water

- Show Olivia is still in love with Hamilton, even when he's being a bastard

Embarrassingly, both of these corrections go back to one of the simplest writing rules you'll ever hear: show don't tell. No matter how many times I try to show things and not tell them, something slips through. All books contain some telling, but in this case, these two things will be more dynamic when shown.

Next I brainstorm ways of showing these things. With the environmental angle, I didn't have to work hard: I had already dropped a fun idea later in the book, and as Liz points out, I could just use that earlier and flesh it out. The Hamilton crush was a bit trickier, but I think I have a way to show that she is still in love with him, and the really nice part is that it ties in with something else that happens later in the book, which conforms to Linda Sue Park's "Story Weaving" idea. (I'll have to save that for another post, but the gist of it is to never bring something up you aren't going to use or show again later in the story. I'm simplifying, but you get the picture.)

Okay, so once I have my ideas, I go back to my chapter inventory and look for places to put these things. I'm looking to weave them in seamlessly, of course. In this case, I found a way to combine these two things and create a wholly new chapter. To "get to" this chapter in the story, I introduced the idea of the brownwater river race on a flier in a previous chapter: a visitor to Hamilton's home brings it as evidence that there is growing public sentiment against the Elsinore Paper Plant. Horatio reads the flier and decides to show up and lend his support--and get in good with the smart and attractive Olivia.

I "get out" of this chapter by heading right into another new chapter, also brought about by questions Liz sent. With Horatio already away from the Prince mansion (attending the brownwater raft race), it's an easy thing to have him hit another location in town on the way back and interact with Trudy, Hamilton's mother, to learn more about why she remarried so soon. Using Linda Sue Park's weaving idea again, I also get to work in the setting that Horatio will return to to catch the conscience of the murderer!

You see how this works. One thing sort of dominoes into another at this stage, which is what you want. The whole story is incestually hyperlinked to itself. If you ever hit a dead link, you know you're in trouble. You either have to invent a new link from there, or back up and try again.

That's where I am now. I've got a new and improved chapter inventory on one side of my computer, including new chapters and notes for changes to old ones, and on the other side I have my meaningfully marked manuscript with the nitpicky changes to things like repetitions and cliche language. As of today I'm two chapters in and picking up steam . . .


Post a Comment

Hello! Thanks for dropping by our blog. Feel free to agree or disagree with us, or just chime in with moral support. We leave most everything, but we of course reserve the right to delete anything that's needlessly nasty, profane, or spam. Now, if you'll just insert your two cents into the slot below...

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Read Alan's archived newsletters here.

Blog Archive

Swell Stuff

My Etsy Favorites

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Back to TOP