Tag Archives: “Perceval’s Shadow”

Perceval’s Shadow: Revision Work 1

So, here I am, facing the words I’ve written to tell the story of Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in the Perceval series. I thought I’d start a mini-series of posts about the revision process on this novel to share its progress and maybe a little about my own creative process.

Revision work is all about making decisions. If you’re a terrible decision-maker, maybe creative writing isn’t a good fit for you. The decisions start as soon as the idea comes into a writer’s head — they masquerade as questions that need to be answered. Who is this character? What does she want? Is this story a short story? Novella? Or maybe it’s a screenplay? Where is this character? What’s her backstory? And so on — just a taste of the questions that come up at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first revision, the questions are different. The first question I asked myself was do I read straight through the draft and then start the work, or do I just start the work with chapter 1? My reply to myself, after a few minutes of thought while staring at the manuscript pages, came with a certainty of feeling in the pit of my stomach that spread throughout my body: just start the work.

So, I began by reading through the notes I’d been making over the years (yes, years) with my ideas for how I wanted each chapter, page, and paragraph to go to move the story forward and reveal character. I do that reading in motion, i.e. I walk from one end of my apartment to the other and back. Over and over until I finish going through the notes. Then I sit down at my desk, pull out my favorite purple ink pen, and begin reading chapter 1. This chapter surprised me quite a lot. It’s in good shape and I had few changes or edits. Later I discovered the reason — in the back of the file folder are five other chapter 1’s marked “old” and written all over in different colored inks. I’m certain that chapter 1 will require even more work, but for now, it’s in good shape.

Photo Credit: Vanessa Rudloff

Chapter 2 introduces a new character, a 10-year-old French boy named Pierre. As I began reading, I remembered how Pierre had come into my life, following me around for months before I finally figured out where he belonged, i.e. in this novel. I’d had an incredibly deep feeling for Pierre — I’m very attached to him, very protective. I’m hoping that these feelings will channel into the other characters in the story. Pierre will need their affection and protection. My prose in this chapter needed much more work than the first chapter, and I slowed down to do the work and took my time. And all through it, Pierre’s introduction into the Perceval series pleased me. I liked his feistiness. I went through this chapter twice during two different weekends.

After the second day of working on chapter 2, I turned to chapter 3. The work on this chapter began at a snail’s pace. Immediately, I saw that this chapter would need a great deal of work during this revision, and required a thorough re-think. But I know what I want this chapter to accomplish regarding revealing character and moving the story forward. The trick will be asking the right questions and  putting what I learn on the page.

Revision work is like eating chocolate — it is not to be rushed but savored as a total immersion experience. The first revision for me is not about grammar, syntax or an extensive line edit. It’s about making certain I got the characters right. Revision work is the true work in writing, work to be as creative as in the first draft but in a different way, work to be focused on character. Even when I’m not at my desk, I’m thinking about it.

Out of the Dream, On to the Screen

Photo from Terra Kate at Pinterest

This morning, I woke from a dream, one of those “processing” dreams that rehash something that happened the day before or a week ago. This one succinctly reviewed an issue at work and how I’d responded, giving me “two thumbs up” for handling it well. Why don’t I remember more of these “Atta girl!” dreams?

The notion of remembering dreams stuck like a burr in my mind through the morning, until I finally realized that dreams have played an important role in my writing life. In Anais Nin’s book, The Novel of the Future, she quotes Jung in the first chapter: “Proceed from the dream outward….” She then defines dream: “…ideas and images in the mind not under the command of reason.” She goes on to discuss that dreams are not limited to sleep time, but they can occur at any time the mind slips away from the command of reason which includes daydreaming, playing in the imagination, and hallucinations sparked by drugs. Any products of the imagination proceed from the dream outward.

When I write fiction, I am using my imagination, encouraging it to provide me with the characters, dialogue, and action for the stories I write. When I’ve run into walls during this process, I have asked for help from my subconscious mind before closing my eyes to sleep at night. Patience has rewarded me with paths around the walls or ways to scale them in dreams I have had asleep. Characters have sometimes haunted my dreams at night.

While working on the very first draft of Perceval’s Secret years ago, I really wasn’t that excited about Evan Quinn being an orchestra conductor. The way I saw it, I’d need to do an awful lot of research in order to make him authentic because I knew very little about professional orchestra conductors, especially the successful ones, and of course, I wanted Evan to be a successful something. So, I began thinking about other possible professions. At the time I knew nothing about his story (I didn’t know his name at the time), only that he’d grown up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and I’d seen him conducting on stage in my mind. Professions I thought about included auto mechanic, high school teacher, dentist, and a construction executive, sort of a real estate developer who actually works construction, or real estate agent.

A couple days after I began thinking about changing Evan’s profession, I went to bed in the evening dog tired. I looked forward to a restful night’s sleep. But it didn’t turn out to be: I had a dream in which Evan, dressed in his white tie and tails (his working clothes), stood in front of me, glaring at me with anger in his eyes, then very fast pushing his face into my face, so fast it startled me awake. I lay in bed thinking how odd it was to dream about a character, but then it made sense because the character had emerged from my imagination much the way dreams do. I went back to sleep. But restful sleep it wasn’t, because that dream came back, waking me again, and again, and again. The same dream. For four more nights.

I mean, really! I was annoyed with Evan Quinn, annoyed with myself, and cranky because I wasn’t getting much sleep. It took me five days and nights before I figured out what the dream was about. Evan always appeared in his white tie and tails, as if just about to go on stage or just come off stage. He wasn’t wearing a mechanic’s coveralls, or a suit, or jeans and an Oxford shirt. It was always that tux. And that was the key. He didn’t speak to me in the dream, just glared at me and threatened me by getting in my face. He wasn’t happy. He was angry with me. He was showing me that he wanted to wear his white tie and tails, and he wanted me to know that. In other words, he was an orchestra conductor and nothing else, and he was angry that I was entertaining any other profession for him.

This revelation led to the end of the dream. He left me alone once I’d given in, with some trepidation because of the amount of research I’d need to do, and let him be an orchestra conductor.

Proceed from the dream outward, indeed. It’s time for my dreams to stop being about the job and start helping me with Evan Quinn again as I begin work on the first revision of Perceval’s Shadow.

What do you dream about?

Revision: How to get started?

After the wonderful news earlier this week that Perceval’s Secret had won the Silver Medal in the “Thriller/Mystery/Horror” category in Connections eMagazine’s Readers Choice Awards 2018 (thank you, Melanie Smith!), I spent some time publicizing the news, and I continue to tell the world (of course!). It’s the first time Perceval’s Secret has won anything — indeed, the first time I’ve won anything! Another effect of this award: my work on the first revision of the Perceval Shadow first draft has become urgent. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time, actually, and working through various issues and scenes in my head. But now it’s time to pull out the manuscript and get cracking.

How do I start the first revision?

First of all, as daunting as it might be, it’s not nearly as scary as the blank page all writers encounter when starting a first draft. When the first draft is done, there’s material to work with, to sculpt, to massage, to add to, and to smooth. I have pulled out the manuscript and my working file, what are the next steps?

Steps for First Revision Work  

Read through: It’s been a while since I’ve lived inside this novel, so my first step is to read through the draft. I had printed out a hard copy before. Now, I’ll curl up with it and my purple pen to read it, write notes on the page or on my handy legal pad, and dream about the scenes and characters.

First Chapter: This chapter will almost always need a lot of work (along with the last two chapters of the book). Writing the first chapter can be a nightmare, challenge, or pure joy, depending upon how it goes. What I’ve learned about my own writing is that the first chapter is the most problematic and scares me even more than the ending. I’ve learned that it’s best to pay close attention to what I’ve written, but to not do too much work with revision until after I’ve been through the rest of the book. There will be threads in later chapters that need or have some connection to the first chapter, and I need to know what they are.

What is the purpose of the first revision? Good question. I approach the revision work as steps toward the summit of completion. Each step has a purpose. What each step’s purpose is can be completely up to the writer. For example, one step could be for scene work. Another step could be for narrative structure and character development. Another step could be for line editing. Another step could be for checking for inconsistencies, e.g. a character’s eyes are blue at the beginning and inexplicably brown in the middle of the story. It is helpful to decide at the beginning of revision work what the purpose of each revision will be, and then focus only on that revision’s specified purpose as the work progresses.

The purpose of the first revision of Perceval’s Shadow is scene work. I need to take care of fleshing out scenes including crucial details, looking at character motivation in each scene, and resolving problems within scenes. I expect this will be slow work, and anyway, it shouldn’t be rushed. Because this novel is part of a series, I also need to make notes about what happens in each chapter and how it might relate to action in subsequent books in the series.

How long does a revision take? Forgive me while I have a good laugh at my own question. I’m not a very patient person, and of course, I want the revision to go really fast so I can get on with the next revision. But then I look up at the neon pink sticky note above my desk on which I’ve written “Pay attention.” This is from Zen Buddhism — the goal of staying in the present moment and paying attention in that moment. It’s amazing what can be observed by being still and paying attention. The same holds true for revision work. In order to pay attention to the words, how they build into the structure of your story and the development of your characters, it’s necessary to go slow and proceed with care.

And now, chapter one, page 1….

Who among my readers here are doing revision work right now on a large piece of writing? Do you have your own steps? What is the most frustrating thing about revision work?

Getting Started

What happens is I write a first sentence, then I read the sentence that I’ve just written, and then I immediately erase that sentence; then I begin anew by writing another first sentence for a completely different story; then another first sentence for another story, so on and so forth.” Courtney Eldridge, Unkempt

This week, Ideas have inundated my mind. Ideas for essays. Ideas for characters. Ideas for cleaning. Ideas for what to read. I experience no shortage of ideas. The challenge from Ideas is to lasso them, get them to stand still long enough for me to write them down. Writing first sentences can be that way, as Courtney Eldridge writes in the quote above. Also returning to a large writing project after several years.

Photo: Marina Shemesh

Photo: Marina Shemesh

It astonishes me that it’s been nine years since I’ve worked on Perceval’s Shadow or P2, the second novel in the Perceval series. A lot has happened during those nine years, of course, and I’m grateful that I captured so many of my ideas on paper nine years ago before moving on to P3, Perceval in Love. I had finished the first draft!  I’d written a chapter by chapter synopsis! I had extensive notes on the characters and their motivations, as well as rewrite notes, and notes on what I needed to do during the first rewrite, i.e. research. The actual writing of the first draft is the easy part, true. What happens next, though, separates the real professional novelists from the amateurs.

The first step in re-entering Evan Quinn’s world to work on the P2 first revision is to read through all my notes. Write down any ideas that come to mind. Done.

The second step is to read through the first draft with pen and paper close by to make notes along the way. I’ve just begun this step. It’ll take me several weeks as I do this work when I’m not at the part-time job or doing other things for life. I’ll be looking at the structure first and foremost. Then the plot points. Then the story. The characters and their development. I’ll make a note of any questions I have about locations or anything else that I’ll need to research.

A-hand-writing-with-a-pen-006

The third step is the actual revision work. Chapter by chapter, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, word by word. I won’t be paying as much attention to grammar, syntax, spelling, or word choice in this revision as I will the bigger issues of structure, character, plot and story. Dialogue, too, but I lump dialogue in with character. The overarching question for this revision is Does it all go together and make sense?

I’m excited. I’ve been thinking about this novel for a long time. My curiosity has finally won out — what did I write? Does it work? Is it exciting? What about the characters? Will I love it?

emerging sculpture

This process resembles the way Michelangelo worked on his sculptures, taking a huge chunk of marble and chipping away at it to find to form within. Then shaping that form in the marble, revealing the lines, curves, crevasses, shadows and surface textures emerging from the stone. It takes time. Patience. Dedication and obsession.

I hope I’m up to the task.

The First Page

La Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires  (Photo: Suite101.net)

La Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires (Photo: Suite101.net)

One evening this past week while preparing for bed. I was brushing my teeth, letting my mind wander.  Suddenly, Evan Quinn was talking in my mind with another musician as they ran through the streets of Buenos Aires after Evan’s last concert there. This conversation has been nagging at me for years. The first time I wrote it, I just wanted to get something down on paper so I could work with it.  Over time, I’d revised and rewrote it several times, never getting to the point where it felt right in my bones. This conversation opens Perceval’s Shadow, the second novel in my Perceval series.  It starts on the first page.

The first page of any book, fiction or nonfiction, is crucial in the set up for the rest of the story.  I call it the “Sing, goddess” page, after the first stanza of Homer’s The Iliad.  In that first stanza, Homer encapsulates the entire story of his epic in general terms, giving the promise of fleshing out the details in the subsequent stanzas. Its conciseness is brilliant. It pulls in the reader (or listener, back in Homer’s day) with drama, war, gods, and the tragedy of the favored, beloved Achilles.

Nowadays, writers must pull in their readers with the first page, but not necessarily with an encapsulation of the entire story. What are the elements of a riveting first page?

Action: Begin in media res, or in the middle of action. Ironically, this does not have to be physical action.  It can be internal action, i.e. the action of the mind at work.  Especially if the mind is acting in an interesting or unusual way.  Physical action can be anything really as long as something is happening.

Conflict: This can be the introduction of the main thematic conflict, or actual physical conflict, or even intellectual conflict embodied in dialogue.  For Perceval’s Shadow, at least two conflicts exist on the first page.  One is a broader conflict (war) that affects Evan directly, and the other is a much more personal conflict.

Mystery: Who are the characters?  Why are they in that location?  What will happen next?  There can also be foreshadowing that will create a sense of mystery surrounding the characters, their motivations, and their behavior.  In every good story there is always a strong element of mystery that keeps the reader reading.  What’s going to happen next?

themartianbookcover-jpegWhat is a good example of these three elements coming together in a successful first page?  I think page one of Andy Weir’s The Martian.  It begins with “LOG ENTRY: SOL 6.”  What?  What does that mean?

Then the first sentence: “I’m pretty much fucked.”  This made me smile, in spite of the dire nature of the statement.  It was over the top.  Something has happened, but what? Mystery.

Second sentence: “That’s my considered opinion.”  We’re getting a sense of character with this sentence, a kind of defiance in the face of the adversity implied in the first sentence.

Third sentence: “Fucked.”  OK, what is so terrible to result in such a fatalistic reaction?  Mystery.

Fourth sentence: “Six days into what should be the greatest month of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.”  Ah, lots of questions come out of this statement.  Why should it be the greatest month of his life?  What was he doing?  What happened that it became a nightmare?  What is that nightmare?  Clearly, some sort of conflict occurred but what was it?

Fifth sentence: “I don’t even know who’ll read this.”  Now we know he’s alone, although we’re not certain of this character’s sex yet.  So far, these sentences have raised more questions than they’ve answered, and the action could go in just about any direction.  This is an example of mental action or thinking in action.

Two sentences later, Weir gives us some answers with conflict, action, and some more mystery. We find out that the character is Mark Watney and he’s on Mars. He was a member of a crew who thought he’d died (why?).  And the conflict?  Well, obviously it’s going to be Mark Watney vs. Mars. And that is essentially the first page of The Martian.

Next time you’re shopping for books, be sure to read the first pages of the books you’re looking at.  Where’s the action?  The conflict?  The mystery?