Tag Archives: “Perceval’s Shadow”

Perceval’s Shadow: Revision Work 3

My revision work has begun to settle into a kind of routine: I work on a hard copy of a chapter, making changes in ink by hand. Every couple of chapters completed this way I boot up the computer and enter a “new” file for each revised chapter that I date once I’ve finished entering the changes into the electronic document. This gives the work a rhythm between handwriting and thinking over the hard copy and typing. Of course, I’m also editing as I’m typing. This revision work, though, swings and sashays along.

Then I hit a big hole. I suspected it was coming, but it wasn’t totally clear until I stood at the edge of it looking down into nothing. I needed to add a chapter that would reveal character, develop the relationship between two characters, and reveal an inner conflict. I was nervous. It’s been a long time since I have drafted anything new for this novel. Would I be able to recapture the tone of the prose, the pacing, the voice? I put it off a bit, then when I had a full day off from my job, I sat down at my computer and began working.

Where I write

The whole day surprised me. I was so afraid that I would struggle and struggle to get anything down before I sat at the computer. But then something happened. Looking at that blank page on the computer screen switched on that part of my brain that’s been working on that chapter for months behind the scenes. The words just gushed out of me. I wasn’t even thinking about the structure of the chapter, just focused on typing as fast as the words came. By the end of the day, I’d written 2500 words — a daily record for me.

What did I have then at the end of that day?

Two short scenes and the beginning of a long tracking shot scene. I showed Evan dealing with the aftermath of the chapter 1 event. I showed him interacting with his British artist manager and his Spanish cousin. And there is an emotional change that I hadn’t known was coming until it was upon me. But I realized that this specific change was actually the reason this new chapter is important. And there’s a tension in this chapter that I hadn’t expected as well.

I haven’t yet completed this new chapter. It may require a couple more days of work. This writing has stopped the revision work, but it’s also a crucial part of it. I had known that I may need to write some new scenes or whole chapters for this first revision. My experience with this new material flowing out of me reassures me that it is something the novel definitely needs.

First drafts surprise as they appear like magic out of the imagination, but that magic continues during the revision process. I have this image of my imagination as a laughing child, giddy with play, having a blast as I work. That’s certainly what it feels like in my mind. And then there’s that tingling feeling that cascades through my body when I write something — that’s when I know it’s absolutely right. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Language

In On Writing, Stephen King comments that readers never ask writers language questions, i.e. how does a writer come up with the right language for a story? Or a character?  Dialogue? It’s hard work, actually. I’ve been thinking a lot about it this past week because my revision work on Perceval’s Shadow last weekend put the question of language in my face. It’s all about word choice, but that sounds much simpler than it is.

I worked last weekend on chapter 2, a Pierre chapter, i.e. a chapter told from third person point of view close in to a 10-year-old French boy who’s been living on the future war-torn Viennese streets. He loves Japanese anime, specifically the anime of Hayao Miyazaki in two of Miyazaki’s famous movies, Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, especially the latter. This boy just started identifying himself in his mind as a friend of the Wizard Howl as well as the Warrior Ashitaka, I had no idea why, but I went with it. Pierre is also artistically gifted — he loves to draw and he loves architecture, so he’s visually oriented. I wanted to capture a sense of his mind, his personality, and explore more his love for Miyazaki.

This excerpt is from the first draft:

He strolled down an aisle of butcher stalls, one hand skimming the edge of the displays, eyeing the sausages, the gruff stall owners, and where the most shoppers had stopped: a stall on the left, four stalls ahead. He increased his pace. At the target stall, he darted between two rotund women and grabbed a pair of bratwurst with his left hand. One woman cuffed his head and the other reached to hold him, but he ducked and ran.

Photo Credit: Vanessa Rudloff

Not bad. But everything about this excerpt screams me writing description. I wanted to choose words that would be revealing of Pierre, not me. How does he see this outdoor market and the people around him? Is he afraid? Confident? Does he have a plan? His goal is to steal enough food to get him through another day. With these questions in mind, here’s what I came up with in the revision:

He strolled down an aisle of the butcher section, one hand skimming the edge of the displays, devouring the sausages with his eyes, keeping his distance from the gruff stall owners.  Most of the shoppers had stopped at a stall on the left, four stalls ahead.  He increased his pace.  The crowd around the stall would hide him while he snatched the meat.  All those Viennese women!  They became flustered when something extraordinary happened, like an invisible French boy stealing from right under their noses.  He grinned.  They probably saw the meat move up and fly through the air on its own.  Imagine!  Of course they would become flustered.  They could not explain what had happened.  The police would come and shake their giant heads at the women and their stories of meat flying through the air on its own.

At the target stall, he darted between two rotund women and grabbed a pair of bratwurst with his left hand.  One woman cuffed his head and the other reached to hold him, but he ducked and ran.  These women had tried to stop him.  How could they see him?

In this revision, I wanted to show him thinking more of being helped by the Wizard Howl, and Pierre immediately decided that Howl had made him invisible. I realized after I’d finished, that as a homeless boy, he felt invisible to most of the people around him. All the nice Viennese do not want to see him or other homeless boys, dirty and starving, collateral damage from the war. If they saw them, the Viennese would either feel helpless to do anything or uncomfortable and overwhelmed by the “problem” and want someone else to take care of it, i.e. the police or government.

Photo: der Standard/Robert Newald

In the second excerpt, I write much the same thing as in the first excerpt, but in the second it’s no longer me describing the action. By sinking into Pierre’s thoughts, the paragraph takes on the quality of Pierre’s personality. It begins by changing “eyeing the sausages” to “devouring the sausages with his eyes” and sinks deeper with the exclamation “All those Viennese women!” He imagines their reaction to meat rising through the air all on its own. He is psyching himself to make his move to steal the bratwurst. The language I’ve chosen reflects that and his narrow escape in the following paragraph.

This is an example of working with language, how language supports character and action, and how it sets the tone for the story. The words I chose reveal Pierre’s character. To accomplish this, I thought long and hard about who Pierre is, how he sees the world, how he sees himself in the world, and how he’s chosen to cope with his circumstances. I was satisfied with the result.

Perceval’s Shadow: Revision Work 2

I love revision work. It challenges. It’s hard. It frustrates. It slows me down and forces me to think, to imagine, to turn to my imagination to help me. This is the place I’m in now with the second novel. I couldn’t be happier…except there’s never enough time! I want more time to work on it. Amazing how much time a fulltime job and the commute eats out of my writing time.

Before last weekend, I had not done much work on chapter 3. I spent the entire weekend on chapter 3. My original discovery that it needed a great deal of work had not changed at all. In fact, I rewrote sections by hand, not opening the computer at all. Writing by hand is the ultimate way to slow down the revision process. The way the hand holds a pen, the ink flows onto the paper, and the ink forming letters and words thrills me as well as excites my imagination.

As I worked, I finally saw the structure for this chapter. Like a musical Rondo, it alternates between the medical setting and people, and Evan’s life and the people in it. I found the way to bring Evan’s guilt forward more as well as his PTSD. And I know how this chapter ends which right now is quite an accomplishment.

Work on chapter 3 has also shown me strongly that I need a new chapter between the current chapter 4 and chapter 5. Another new character arrives in Evan’s life at the end of chapter 3, and I’ve realized that my original questions years ago about whether or not I needed to give that new character more time with Evan before they return to Vienna were spot on. Right now, this novel has 22 chapters, and I haven’t done a word count because I thought that would be silly for a first draft that will probably change a lot during the revision process. So far, adding the chapter between chapters 4 and 5 is the only place I feel the need for another chapter. It is related to chapter 3, so what I put in chapter 3 now will move forward in a new chapter 5.

At this point, I haven’t done any editing on the computer. All my work has been handwritten on a hard copy I printed out before. Another decision I need to make: when will I begin adding the editing/changes/new material I’m doing by hand to the document files on my computer? That process also takes time, and it’s been my experience that it can also spark additional revisions as I’m working on the computer. The new chapter between the current chapters 4 and 5 I’ll probably write on the computer, as I wrote the entire first draft.

I’m pleased with the work so far. It’s been abundantly clear also that my mind and imagination were quite ready to do it now. I can feel the thoughts just under the surface of my mind focused on Evan and this novel. Lots of that tingly feeling when I know physically that what I’m doing is absolutely right. I just wish I had more time!

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?