Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Tiny Note on Style

Because it's Thanksgiving week - and I have a great, great deal to be thankful for, and not enough time at the moment to go there - I have only a small post but I hope an interesting one.

One of the sweet catch-phrases that I began to hear repeated over and over during my explorations of the writing craft, especially once I started my studies at Vermont College of Fine Arts, is "kill your darlings." Meaning, "get rid of what you love the most; it's likely to be precious overblown baloney-oil."

Now I'm reading Stephen King's brilliant On Writing (more on that another time) and he quotes Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch (correctly) to "murder your darlings." Quiller-Couch - who went by the pen-name "Q" (I love this, it brings to mind Bond and am wondering if I want to be known as "F"...but on second thought, no) - created this memorable aphorism in a series of lectures delivered in 1913-14 and later published under the title On The Art of Writing. Q says:

To begin with, let me plead that you have been told of one or two things which Style is not; which have little or nothing to do with Style, though sometimes vulgarly mistaken for it. Style, for example, is not—can never be—extraneous Ornament. You remember, may be, the Persian lover whom I quoted to you out of Newman: how to convey his passion he sought a professional letter-writer and purchased a vocabulary charged with ornament, wherewith to attract the fair one as with a basket of jewels. Well, in this extraneous, professional, purchased ornamentation, you have something which Style is not: and if you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’

This then is Style. As technically manifested in Literature it is the power to touch with ease, grace, precision, any note in the gamut of human thought or emotion.

There you have it. Ease, grace, and precision. Darlings, begone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Revision Plus (Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Workshop)

There's a reason it's called revision. "Re-vision"..."re-envision"...see your work in an entirely new light. Darcy Pattison has been conducting whole novel revision workshops for years, and I've been wanting to attend one for the longest time, and now I know why these retreats are so widely acclaimed.

Years ago, when I was revising Faithful, I used Darcy's book Novel Metamorphosis (ordered at the bookstore) and found it immensely helpful. Even so, it paled next to the experience.

For one thing, Darcy groups participants so that you critique intensively with 3 other authors: you've read their stories and they've read yours. At each learning interval Darcy admits time for the group to discuss that craft issue (plot, character, setting, etc.) in each other's work. This intense discussion and re-discussion - this revisiting the topics over and over - allows for increasingly deeper analysis and deeper focus, and opens the way for a trusting bond among participants. I didn't know about or expect this aspect of the workshop, and I loved it. Loved it.

I'm going to give you a set of bullet points, things that we did/that I learned:

  • the novel inventory - a chapter by chapter look at action and emotion to reveal tension and strong/weak chapters
  • the "shrunken manuscript" - a Darcy original - the manuscript in 8 point font, that can be laid out all at once and allows the writer to see (through the clever use of markers) holes in plot, character development, tension, etc.
  • the narrative arc worksheet - by working through the narrative arc on my shrunken manuscript, I learned that, in the novel I brought, my antagonist didn't actually appear until late in the story. Yikes. Now, why didn't I see that at full scale? Because I was too preoccupied with the words.
  • the emotional arc and character analysis - deepening characters, finding their emotional epiphanies, and connecting the emotional and plot arcs, and intensifying emotions through the use of stronger verbs
  • dialogue techniques - Darcy has a really nice way of simplifying dialogue techniques and demonstrating different ways that exchanges can convey additional information (information that isn't on the page or in the actual dialogue but that exists in subtext through gesture) 
  • choosing sensory details - using markers again on a particular scene, I discovered that I had plenty of visual and some auditory information but that the rest of the senses were utterly ignored. After an exercise in which I free-wrote just sensory details I was able to find a handful to work into the scene
  • connotations and deeper meanings - our entire group came up with improvements to our manuscripts when we brainstormed word connotations and found how we could use them in our manuscripts to deepen the emotional core
I've done lots of workshops, but this was outstanding. Intense, constrained by time, but invaluable. I came away with a workbook that I'll use on every novel from now on.

So, what do you do if you can't attend Darcy's workshop?

First, you can buy her book - it's terrific.

Second, if you have critique partners, you can use the book to guide yourselves through the group exercises and, believe me, that alone will be worth the energy. (If you don't have critique partners...try to find some. Maybe I should discuss that in another post?)

Oh, yes, we did have fun! Meals, a movie (primed for discussion about repetition), and after a wonderful walk with Darcy I even had time to do a little roaming around town and found a green top that looks so much like Maggie's dress in Faithful...I can't wait to find a skirt and wear it. (See? There's actual lacing in it! Fun!)

Re-envision. Whether it's your novel, or a new approach to your writing, or yourself in a slinky green dress...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Revision and Whatnot

A busy month of travel and editing...and the two combined. With no pending interviews and little time to get really creative with my "new blog approach," this is just a personal reflection.

A while back I detailed the editorial process, which goes in order like this: macro edits, line edits, copy edits, design sets, pass pages....Last week I received the copy edits on FORGIVEN, and at this stage I've learned to be both excited and anxious. This is it, the big kahuna, the final chance, the last time in which I have the opportunity to make any "significant" changes to the manuscript. After the copy edits, it's all just teeny-weeny changes, like spelling mistakes and typos; no big scenes or even sentences.

The process is all electronic at Penguin. We use MS Word and the track changes feature, and the pages can get very colorful with our different comments. My line edits were really colorful this time. I had lots of changes at the line edit stage. So when I received the copy edits, I was even more nervous than with FAITHFUL, because there's a bit more complex mystery in FORGIVEN, a bit more subtlety, and I didn't want to mess things up.

Two days in a car, my sweet hubby at the wheel, me reading aloud from the copy edit manuscript, red pen in hand.

He, the left-brained scientist; me, searching for things that didn't work.

Result: an editorial dream team.

Can I arrange a car trip with him every time I write a book and get to this stage, pretty please? Only time and you, dear readers, will tell whether this novel works on the page. But I sure loved the process.

On a different note, I'll be attending Darcy Pattison's "novel revision workshop" this weekend in Texas, and I'm so excited. She wants us all to read two craft books that I have on my shelf and love: Noah Lukeman's The First Five Pages, and Renni Browne and Dave King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers.

On a final note, just because, a pic I snapped the day before we left Montana: a frosty dawn (yes, that's frost on the lawn) out our front window.

Next time: what I learned whilst sitting at Darcy's feet.