Tag Archives: “Perceval’s Shadow”

First Draft: Write short or Write long?

The last few weeks I’ve been working hard on the revision work for Perceval’s Shadow.  The work has progressed like a snail moving to the other side of the yard. Why? That’s been bugging me. Why is it so slow? Then I received the January 2019 issue of The Writer, and I found an article inside entitled “Go long & cut, or write short & add?” Aha! This article sparked some serious thinking about my approach to this first draft vs. the way I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Secret.

I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Secret by throwing down on paper every thought, idea, description, and scene that came into my head. I remember during the revision process I also discovered that I’d repeated myself often, and cut every repetition I found. I also had a fondness for certain words that I used over and over. They were all cut as well. The point: I wrote that novel so long I ended up cutting thousands of words. That was before I did a line edit where I tightened up the writing, cutting thousands more words.

Perceval’s Secret was my first novel. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I wrote my way into it and then sculpted the story out of the gigantic first draft I’d created. It took many drafts and revisions before I got to a point where I thought maybe I finally had the novel that was really there. If you haven’t been through this process, it’s difficult to imagine the months upon months of work or the sense of uncertainty and inadequacy it produces in a person. I remember thinking when I finished that I really didn’t want to experience that again.

So, when I wrote the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow, I wanted first and foremost to get the story down with all the important plot points. So, I left out description, transitions, and in some sections, whole scenes. I even left out at least one chapter. I wrote copious notes about what I was thinking at the time, and also ideas of what would need to be added in order to flesh out the story and characters. I wrote that first draft short with the intention of adding during the revision process. That decision is the reason my progress with this first revision progresses at such a snail’s pace.

The uncertainty and sense of inadequacy I felt working on the first draft of Perceval’s Secret pales in comparison to the frustration I feel working on the first draft of Perceval’s Shadow. I wish I had written this first draft much, much longer. I’ve discovered that I prefer to cut rather than to add. For one thing, despite all the notes I left myself, I’m not at all certain that I’m filling in the gaps in the same way I would have when I wrote the draft originally. On the other hand, I’ve gained knowledge and snippets of wisdom in the time since I wrote that first draft, and I’m bringing a more mature perspective to the characters and their motivations.

Where I write

Conclusion: I’ve learned that I’d rather cut than add during the revision process. By experiencing both ways of writing a first draft, I’ve gained valuable knowledge about myself as a writer and my approach to revision work. I’ve written half of the first draft of Perceval in Love. I think when I return to finish that draft, I’m going to be filling in the gaps in the first half and adding everything I can think of for that story as I finish it. In the meantime, I continue to slog on with the revision work for Perceval’s Shadow.

P. S. My goal was to finish the first 12 chapters of Perceval’s Shadow, or half the novel, by December 31, 2018. As it stands now, I’ll come very close, but still won’t achieve that goal. Not that I’m going to throw up my hands and give up as a result. I love revision work too much….

An Update

A rough two weeks. My health has been my first priority to insure a complete, full recovery from the illness that felled me a little over two weeks ago. I am on the mend.

Last weekend, to conserve energy, I focused on revision work for Perceval’s Shadow, feeling guilty that I had not written a blog post. Someday, I need to explore the conflict that arises among social media/email, blogs, and fiction. But it was a productive time. I managed to update two chapters’ electronic files, then revision work on four chapters. I don’t know if I’ll make my goal of finishing half the novel by December 31, but I work away at it.

This weekend, I’m feeling better healthwise but caught up with month-end business chores. It’s been extremely busy at my office job, so I’ve been exhausted during the week. That probably won’t change for at least another month or so. I’m trying to get chores done today so I can focus on Perceval’s Shadow tomorrow. There really are not enough hours in the day. I’m looking forward to a four-day weekend for Christmas — my present to my writer self!

I have to admit here that my first writing priority right now is Perceval’s Shadow. So, I will try to post here when I can, but please be patient and understand that I want to get the novel done and out into the world, and I’m working on it whenever I can!

Stay tuned for more updates….

Credit: Walt Disney

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!