Tuesday, 17 May 2011

How to Re-Write a Novel II

The first course is soup, a lovely liquid mass. It's contained within the bowl, but can flow anywhere. Look at the cutlery and choose the spoon furthest away from the plate - you're working from the outside inwards, remember.

The reason I say go outside inwards is it makes no difference how beautiful any individual sentence is, if the whole thing is wrong, if the story telling doesn't work, if there are problems with structure, then no one is ever going to read that perfect sentence. So, the story, the structure, the shape has to be right before you start fussing over adjectives and verbs.

At this stage I like to put the story down on index cards, one card per scene. On the card you write the setting, characters present, the purposes of the scene and the main action. This is one I wrote for an early draft of Another Woman's Husband.

Setting: Don't actually know! next page, B's house somewhere. Also, not dated.
Becca and Lily. Becca dreaming of Paul, Lily wanting to go out late clubbing. Frank rings, wants Becca to go round and help. NB Frank last mentioned/seen when? Pages ago.

And a couple from Kissing Mr Wrong...

Setting: Lorna's place. Dinner party. L's invited Marcus for Alex. Other people there NB should have been mentioned in opening scene. Skiing trip mentioned - Alex will need to find the money. Lorna offers her job in the gallery.

Setting: ????? Alex and Lorna. Alex talks about a) career, she's gone adrift b) Marcus as perfect man c) what to do about photograph. Lorna a) tells her M's going to Glasgow b) suggests Gus as possible re photograph

Obviously, as I was writing out my index cards I realised there were some problems which would need to be addressed should the scenes remain in the next draft and made notes accordingly. But that's for a future stage. Right now I'm checking that it's clear what the purposes are for each scene and how they move the story on.

When I've gone through the whole of the novel I've got a stack of index cards. I lay these out on the bed (I work a lot in bed). This is the easiest way to 'see' the novel as a whole. I'm looking for various things, all concerned with structure -

* is the 'shape' of the novel right, with exciting stuff happening throughout (the cherries - see earlier post)
* is there a good balance between active and reflective scenes (ie pace)
* do scenes flow ie have I set actions up
* are there any obvious holes - a character goes missing for a while, a plot strand is unresolved
* is the timing right? eg if someone becomes pregnant in Jan, do they have the baby in the autumn? At this stage I work out exactly when each scene takes place and note any bank holidays or other events that may affect the story.

I move scenes around, I add them, I take them away, I combine them. Anything. It's a fluid process (it's soup!). When I'm happy with the shape of it, it's on to the next course.

PS It's my birthday today!

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday! I do miss Friday classes. Jacky

Sean Z P Harris said...

Happy birthday, my dear!

Lizzie said...

Happy Birthday, Sarah – hope you do something lovely.

I'm off to the RNA Summer Party tomorrow. BTW, I never heard a word from the agent you introduced me to at last year's party!

Jim Murdoch said...

I can’t imagine ever having to get to this stage. I’ve just finished editing Milligan and Murphy as I think I mentioned in my last comment and the entire book can be boiled down to about two-dozen scenes and in most of those there are no more than three people on the page at one time sitting or standing around talking, which, once you look at my other books you will realise is bustling for me; in my last novel the protagonist is alone for most of the book. It’s not that my book’s don’t have plots, flashbacks and the like, but, as one should, I write what I like to read. And I like to focus on people. I can enjoy intricate plots – I marvel at them – but they’re not for me.

Happy birthday, BTW.

Fiona Faith Maddock said...

A very Happy Birthday to you.

Karen said...

Great advice, especially as I'm rewriting at the moment!

Happy Birthday :o)

Pauline Barclay said...

Happy Birthday Sarah, you never fail to inspire me...thank you again! Sending a birthday hug! x

Kate Hardy said...

Happy birthday, Sarah!

badas2010 said...

Happy Birthday Ma'am! You and my daughter both! Yesterday I went out and bought my wedding suit for her upcoming happy day. Dreading the speech I'll have to make. Back to the re-write.

womagwriter said...

Happy Birthday!

I'll shortly be starting this editing lark with my novel, so these posts are very timely. At the moment the whole thing feels like a huge shapeless mass of uncooked dough.

Melissa Marsh said...

First off, happy birthday! And second, thank you for this terrific post. I'm rewriting my novel right now and it's been a heck of a task. I try to keep it all organized in my head, but I don't think that method is working as well as I'd like. I may try the notecard method...

Debs Carr said...

Hope you have a very happy birthday.

Thanks for these brilliant and informative posts.

Penny said...

Happy birthday, Sarah! And thanks for this particularly useful series of dinner-related editing tips.
Penny

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks everyone, I'm now older but I don't think any wiser...