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Tag: novel revision

Today, I finished polishing the first ⅔ of Jazzy and the Pirate.

That means I have ⅓ to go.

I’m not giving away too much to tell you the rag-tag group of characters has arrived in New Orleans, ready to save the city from the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

Many questions have been answered. About the Pirate’s agenda. About Jazzy’s plan to save the city. About the origin of the curse that enchants them. And its cure.

And tougher questions have been raised. About her dad’s death. About the stability of the house-ship on which they sail. About her family’s future. The city’s fate. Her own fate.

I have an outline of the remaining portion of the book. But even in what I just called the “polishing,” I revised plot lines. So then I had to make a new document entitled “Plot Lines.” And re-plot the lines. The Plot Lines document is very helpful, for it easily identifies what the heroine wants, who/what stands in her way. How each obstacle grows more dire as the story unfolds.

I am telling you all this because it has been a long, slow slog. And it’s easier to keep at a long, slow slog when you know someone else is with you. 🙂

Reading the Count of Monte Cristo has helped too. It’s a long book. I’m sure it was a long, slow slog to write. But, boy, was it worth it.

I hope mine is too.

The Count of Monte Cristo, which I just finished
The Count of Monte Cristo, which I just finished



I’ve slowed down. Reading aloud the first eighty pages whizzed by, but now it’s dragging a bit. This is as it should be. As the story grows, more strands are woven in, and I must be more analytical to make sure I don’t drop a stitch (how’s that for a knitting metaphor by a non-knitter?).  I notice things my characters, living the plot, would notice that I, merely writing the plot, overlooked. I see repetitions, some good (ahhh, Jesus first public reading was about setting prisoners free) and some bad (did I really just say ‘then’ again, dammit?).

Trying to work out the description of physical actions can stall me for a half-hour. First, I revise so I can actually follow what’s happening, then rake out two-thirds of the top-heavy revision, then review to make sure it’s still more accurate. (see all those ‘thens’?).

As I read dialogue aloud, I notice where my tongue is amending the words. That’s my brain, trying to help. It knows what dialogue sounds like, and it’s providing the right words. When that happens, I stop and amend the words on the page.

As I read for the first time the revisions I’ve made that Gretchen my editor suggested to clarify the plot, I see the manuscript deepening as well. The metaphors are swirling, rising into view and submerging. The theme winks in and out. It’s there, hovering, waiting to come together in an inevitable way at the end.

Also, it’s been quite a while since I read the whole work out loud, and coming to it somewhat anew, I notice this: a lot of work has gone into this novel. The throw-away lines about prior Marian visitations represent many hours of researching Marian sightings through the ages. Even one word—the correct name for a section of a steamboat—reminds me of the time I spent studying steamboat illustrations.  The boiled chicken eggs reminds me: I had to research to see if ancient Nazareth had chickens.

All this work—correcting grammatical tics, refining physical movement, softening dialogue, researching for veracity—is for one reason alone: to allow the reader to believe she is following a Jesus who has returned to earth, his celestial energy shaped by a fleshy covering that, unfortunately, has hidden from him the reason he sent himself back to earth again. The goal is to not do anything that pierces the willing suspension of disbelief that Mary and her obstreperous Guardian Angel are in Memphis, searching for her son but running smack dab into a nefarious private prison project when all she wants is to find her son before harm comes to him—again.

Revising to retain the reader’s vision. I’m half way through. Wish me luck on the rest of it.


The Next Loop

I told y’all I was going to keep you in the loop—how many times have I made such a promise then let my commitment fall by the wayside? I’m trying to have more stamina this time, so here goes.

The next step in revising: I’m about to embark on reading The Bone Trench out loud.

I’ve incorporated all the action points from my Reader’s Report-Working Copy into the manuscript. I’ve held in abeyance at the bottom of the Working Copy the big-ticket items I need to make sure to address. I’ve studied those items and lodged them in my brain so that, as I read, I’ll be aware of them.

Why read aloud? The reading aloud gives me a feel for micro-matters (the cadence) and macro-matters (the overall flow of the story). As I read, I’ll make on the Working Copy notations of the pages where major revisions were made. That way I can ensure chronology flows properly—that I didn’t make an astounding revelation . . .  only to see where I made it again six pages later.

Reading aloud also helps me see/hear where things stick out like a sore thumb. Primarily this means clunky sentences where I’ve “conveyed needed information” instead of weaving the information into the voice of the character. I hate sore thumb passages; they make my skin crawl. (I, however, love mixed metaphors—sometimes you need more than one to properly make your point.)

Reading aloud also lets me know where I’m bored. And, Lord knows, if I can’t keep myself entertained, I don’t have a prayer with the reader.

I think this process will take about three days. Time me. We’ll see how I do. 🙂

Revising, Ellen Style

I’ve never done this before, but—hey, that’s how you keep from getting old, right? Try new things? So here goes—I’m folding you in, inviting you along, opening the curtain, and showing you how the sausage is made.

Yesterday I began the revisions to The Bone Trench recommended by my editor Gretchen. I’ve posted about this novel’s long birthing process several times including here; the novel is based on my first published short story which you can read here. The novel has had many Beta readers; an earlier version was a semi-finalist in the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Competition; this its first trip through the meat-grinder of a professional editor. When I finish the revisions, I’ll write a query letter, with Gretchen’s help, and then send my baby into the agent world. If you want to see how I move from here to there, hop on board. I’m giving you a blueprint for Revising, Ellen Style. Keep the parts that work for you and throw the rest away.

First some background. Gretchen sends a “Reader’s Report.” It’s an eleven or twelve page synopsis of her thoughts on characters, plot, technical details; it’s not a line edit of the manuscript. I absorb her comments, mull over them, cogitate on them. Really, I do. My brain has a knee-jerk reaction to criticism so I always step back and let it seep in. Shrug the suggestions onto my shoulders and walk around wearing them for a while to see how they fit.

I’ve done that, so I moved on to Step 2.

In Step 2, I copied the Reader’s Report and re-titled it, “Working Reader’s Report.” I then deleted all the good things she said. With the two pages left . . . That’s a joke. But I do delete anything I’m not going to be working on (see title of document). Of course, I’ve absorbed the successes during Phase 1. This is crucial. I did some things really well; I need to keep that in mind as I shape how to revise.

In Step 3, I pare down Gretchen’s words to her action points. Here’s an example:

Demonittes: These are an interesting addition, but their metaphorical role isn’t as fully developed as it could be, so they don’t seem fully necessary at this point. Their greatest role is when they are infesting the Arc of Salvation, and their infestation of Jesus seems to be more something that is there to mirror their infestation of the Arc as opposed to a clear-cut issue in the plot.

Here’s what I wind up with:

Demonittes: A clear-cut issue in the plot.

Step 4. I begin making notes at the beginning of the Reader’s Report on my thoughts for addressing each spot that needs help. I put the notes in chronological order as to how they will appear in the manuscript. If my feel for a solution is more concrete, I write the notes in dialogue or a phrase I want to use. If not, I will write a question that needs to be answered to get to the solution or a concept that needs to be worked out. I do this for every point Gretchen raised that I know needs addressing. For the really easy stuff (minor confusions, hyphenated words, etc.) I go ahead and make the revisions in the manuscript.

As I perform Step 4—writing in the notes above or correcting the manuscript itself—I delete Gretchen’s conversation on that particular point below. Solution written; problem deleted. As I work, my words are growing, hers are diminishing. The document slowly becomes my working outline of revisions. What remains of her words will be 1) points for which I haven’t yet arrived at a solution; and 2) really important points to which I want to return after I’ve finished all revisions and ensure I’ve adequately addressed them (e.g., “Jesus should care more about private prisons;” “Mary comes across as the less competent of the two at times.”)

What about suggestions I’m not sure I agree with? I leave Gretchen’s words in the document at the bottom. As I revise, the wisdom of these suggestions might become clearer. For The Bone Trench, this section of the document is only one point; Gretchen suggested little I disagreed with.

An important thing happens during this process: I begin to see where two problems are connected. Where a solution can be made to work double time. For those of you into Myers-Briggs, I am an INFJ. One of my strongest needs is the synthesis of disparate parts; that’s why my tag on my old blog was the Creative Synthesizer. This is how the website explains it, quoting an article by Dr. A.J. Drenth:

While INFJs are deeply theoretical, they are less impressed by theories built by a mere assemblage of facts or data. Rather than being “fact” oriented, INFJs concern themselves with forging new connections and reconciling opposites by way of their Intuition. They feel that everything is somehow connected to everything else, forming a vast and interconnected web. For INFJs, discovering truth involves getting a better handle on the nature of this connectedness and the holographic patterns of the universe. In fact, this happens to be one of the signature strengths of their Ni, which subconsciously processes and synthesizes copious amounts of information, wraps it up in the form of a symbol or metaphor, and proceeds to upload into the INFJ’s consciousness.

Having all of Gretchen’s suggestions in front of me at once enables me to see the floating pieces and connect them one to the other until the final picture is clear. Knowing this about myself has made my re-visioning path MUCH easier.

So. I have my working outline finished. My “Working Reader’s Report” on The Bone Trench is three pages; two pages of my notes and one page of Gretchen’s points. My two pages of notes contain a great deal of shorthand and represent a lot of work still to be done. For example, my notes read, “The Great Metanoia is trying to be born but there’s a blockage; MM dreams about the 3 Marys.” I must write the scene where Mother Mary realizes the truth of the blockage and the scene where she dreams. Then I must decide where in the narrative they belong. What I’ve described to you in this post is merely the organization I go through to begin the re-writes. Yep, lots of work.

Which I will do now.

How do you organize for revisions? Do you find your particular personality needs a particular process? Are there “revising rules” you’ve discarded? Ones you’ve made up? I’d love to hear about your process.


I Can’t Blame the Agent

If you’ve been following this blog, you know I spent about fourteen months attempting to rewrite my manuscript, Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens, into a novel a particular agent could successfully represent. At the end of this process, the agent declined representation.
This is not her fault.
Every step I made along the way—to submit, to analyze her comments and conclude the manuscript could be transformed as she desired, to try and try again—all of it was the result of decisions I made. I knew what I was doing, and I chose to take this route. I do not blame the agent, who has 100% discretion in the manuscripts she chooses to rep, just as I have 100% discretion in the agent I choose to sign with.
In the end, the truism is true: it’s a matter of fit. What I want from an agent is a good fit. Sometimes it takes a while to discover you’re not as good a fit as you thought you were. That’s disheartening, frustrating, makes-you-wanna-holler upsetting. But I have to trust that, ultimately, agents know what they’re doing. They know what they can and cannot sell in the marketplace. That’s the business they’re in.
I’m in the business of writing.
Hopefully, at some point, I will write something an agent somewhere feels he or she can sell. Who knows, I may have already done this with Train Trip—the agent is out there, waiting to discover my manuscript made amazing by a fourteen month rewrite. If that happens, I’ll be glad. If it doesn’t, well, sooner or later, I’ll decide how to best get my work out there. In the meantime, I’ll keep doing what I do, which is writing.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

The Stink of Failure

I have just sent—for the last time—to the interested agent Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens. After three (count ’em, three) prior attempts, I have either successfully managed to revise the manuscript into a “market ready” product or I have not.

I am telling y’all this because I need to share. I’m not sharing my success. I’m sharing my possible failure.

See, I often don’t tell y’all what I’m attempting to do. Contests I’ve entered, submissions I’ve made. If I don’t disclose what I’m trying to do, you won’t ask, Hey, what happened to the ABNA submission (FYI, I didn’t make it into the third round.) I won’t have to face the questions and admit I’ve failed. This is good, because of course I don’t want to look like a failure.

Yeah, I can talk a good game—”I advise from failure” is one of my standard lines—but that’s admitting failure IN THE PAST . . . after I’ve demonstrated success. This position is similar to what I’ve observed about being poor: everyone’s proud of growing up poor, but no one brags about it while they’re still in it.

So here I am—in the midst of becoming a success or on the verge of failing again. I don’t know which way the weather vane will spin. If it’s not good, I’ll try something else. Ultimately, I have faith that it will all be good. I just want to admit, right now, while the jury is still out, that I may be about to fail. Again. And again. For the fourth time again.

And I’m okay with that.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

I interrupt revising Model for Deception
to revise Train Trip, bringing with me
the streamlining lessons learned from revising Model for Deception
only to return to
Model for Deception with the additional streamlining practice I’ve gained
revising Train Trip
as I read American Gods, learning how to craft a slightly different novel so I can eventually take my Train Trip and Model for Deception learning
and apply it to The Bone Trench.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

Which Novel Next?

If I tell you my one-sentence pitch, will you tell me which novel you’d rather read?

Model for Deception
When her model partner disappears, a Memphis fashion model uses her “clothes whisperer” skills to investigate the case, only to discover clues to the murder of her long-lost favorite cousin.

In the Name of Mississippi
A young documentarian returns to the South to film a historic civil rights lawsuit, but when the case begins to fall apart, the mixed-race young man must confront his own uncertain place in the world.

1011 St. Lawrence Street
In the racially charged 1970s, the death of the family patriarch deprives a Raleigh, North Carolina family of its moral center, affecting two young cousins—Casey, the beautiful outcast and Emily, the reluctant favorite—quite differently.

The Bone Trench
A controversial private prison project brings Mother Mary and her son Jesus back to modern-day Memphis where Mother Mary is determined—this time—to protect her son from harm.

I’ve finished revision on Train Trip: Lucinda Mae’s Quest for Love, Honor, and the Chickens, and I think I’d like to revise another novel before I return to Jazzy, my Katrina novel. But you can vote on that too: As Hurricane Katrina approaches, an eleven year old girl must evacuate her beloved New Orleans to stay with her deceased father’s family in Mississippi as she awaits the birth of her new sibling.

What do you think?

here’s to Creative Synthesis . . .

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt |