Thursday, October 7, 2010

[Novel] From Hell's Heart I Stab at Thee

That's actually a line from Moby Dick, but you might know it better as Khan's last words on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I'm currently directing it at Chapter 15 of my novel, however.

I'm not good at making semi-massive revisions to a chapter. If it's at all complex, it overwhelms me. I can change a few things here or there, cut out a paragraph or two, or add in themes or imagery easily enough. But I decided Chapter 15 needed a major overhaul back in July when I presented it to my Writer's Roundtable, and it's been messing me up ever since.

I've done a lot right. Possibly too much. I created a graph that broke the chapter's rising dramatic tension (and the little drops in dramatic tension that allow you to keep rising ultimately higher and higher without overwhelming the reader), and labeled it with the 5 major sections of the chapter (plus the "cliffhanger" ending, which is really just a paragraph or two).

I also went back into OneNote and pored over the notes that I'd used the first time I wrote it, archiving those that no longer applied to the new revision, updating those that needed it, and adding in all of the notes and ideas I'd had about the chapter since mid-July when I decided to make the changes.

Next, I created five OneNote pages, one for each of the chapter's major sections, and transferred those notes that applied to a specific section into its corresponding page. Now, as I work on the chapter, I can theoretically pay attention just to the "general" comments that apply to the whole of the chapter, plus the specific ones just for the section I'm working on. All of the comments for the other sections will be out of sight, so as not to get in my way.

Then I went back to the previous draft - the one I presented to my peers - and edited it based on the critique I'd received and my own notes. If I were planning to keep that version of Chapter 15, it would now be about as good as I could make it. This ensures that when I copy chunks of prose out of the old draft of Chapter 15 and re-use them in the new draft, all necessary corrections for grammar, word-choice and realistic accuracy have already been made.

Lastly, I pored over that previous draft with a virtual highlighter and marked up the passages that I definitely wanted to keep, possibly wanted to keep, and definitely did not want to keep (well, technically I left that third category unhighlighted, but the effect is the same).

Now what I need to do is write the new Chapter 15, by:
a) keeping in mind the general notes I've made for the chapter
b) keeping in mind the specific notes I've made for each section
c) ensuring that the overall purpose and goals of the chapter are kept front-and-center
d) ensuring that I don't repeat the mistakes that caused me to have to do all of this in the first place
e) copying over the best prose from the last revision and integrating it perfectly in the new text, in the right places
f) writing new text that perfectly fits the chapter, based on all of the above.

Doing all of that is, I have to admit, quite daunting. It's driving me to distraction, truth be told. I'm not good at it, I'm easily overwhelmed by the magnitude of it, and I'm constantly concerned that I'm going to get lost in it and make a botch of the whole thing. I very much want this chapter done, done, done.

And it will be, at some point. Hopefully some point quite soon. Really, really soon.

After that, I've decided to go back to the beginning, write the new "chapter 1," and make the revisions I've decided on for the subsequent chapters. The changes won't, by and large, be anywhere close to the magnitude of Chapter 15's total re-write, but taken all together the first third of the book will come away looking much different. Hopefully much better. If nothing else, I'll have a chunk of manuscript that actually makes enough sense that I could hand it to somebody to read for me and expect they could follow it along. That hasn't been true for this novel since I made major changes to Chapter 6 that fractured it into two chapters and then never decided quite where to put them.

So that's been my challenge for the last week or two. I hope yours has been going much better.

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