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Month: April 2015

Reading the Vision Out Loud: Part III (or Slowing Down)

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.


A Fine Line

I’m walking a fine line here. Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that I’m glad to be walking any kind of line these days. Let’s focus on the fine line. The one that exists between surgeries. One hip done. One to go.  What do we now know?

* Don’t do a hip surgery without zippered shoes or velcroed shoes or something other than lace-up shoes. This was the most brilliant thing I did. Worth every moment of Tom not having to bend and tie my shoes. He was having to bend over to help me with just about everything else, at least not the shoe-tying.

* Don’t carry a long-fringed purse as your only purse. Long fringe. A walker. A cane. Don’t do it.

* Let anyone who offers to help do so. My physical therapist cousin came on an early weekend; my attentive sister came later. Both were essential breaks we gratefully needed. I will love them even more for it, if possible.

* When they send you home from the hospital (or in my case the ambulatory surgery center), with a pain prescription, either stop on the way home or give your driver’s license to whomever returns to get the prescription filled for you. Pain pills are narcotics. They won’t fill a narcotic prescription without ID. If you’re not used to taking narcotics, you might not know this. If you run back and forth trying to get the prescription filled, you will use up your time between pills. That’s not good, particularly on your first day after surgery.

* When they offer you a bedside toilet that you can set over your home toilet and have arms to help you get up and down, TAKE IT! We have a tall toilet and the nurse had to suggest three times that I take the toilet seat home. Of course, I was on heavy pain meds, but I thought the tall toilet would be enough. It never would have been. Take the toilet.

* Get in as good of shape as possible before surgery. My PT said he tells all his relatives who ask how to prepare for surgery, “Lose 20 pounds.” My home health nurse said, “It’s a lot harder to suture up fat.” I am back on the elliptical, readying for the next surgery. It’s this image of sewing up fat that’s gotten me there.

* Stock up on Gatorade, Pedialite, or other fortified drinks. Pain pills need lots of fluids to counteract their tendency to stop you up. If you drink water, you need to add potato chips to your diet. I’m not lying—this is what the nurse told me: “If you’re going to be drinking that much water, you need to eat potato chips.” So you can do water, but in that case stock up on potato chips.

* They advise you to wear loose pants after surgery, but “loose” is relative. I didn’t realize how tight all my pants were until I had a tender incision zippering down my hip. Think pajamas. Lots of pairs of pajamas. Wide elastic waists. Full thighs. Same goes for underwear. Don’t ask a lot out of yourself, or your clothes, during this time.

* Don’t plan on doing anything requiring concentration for the first week after surgery. I thought, ahhhh. I’ll be lying in bed. I’ll get SO MUCH WRITING DONE. I didn’t. I read mystery after mystery, which, in hindsight, was much more beneficial. But, Lord, I’m thankful I had those mysteries at hand ’cause I wasn’t up to anything else. 

* Realize you will heal at your own rate. Fast. Slow. Somewhere in between. If you’re good with your surgeon and your physical therapist, don’t worry about anything else. People will brag about how quickly they got off the walker or the cane or went back to work. Don’t listen to them. You are doing however you are doing on your recovery. It’s okay. 

* Finally, and if you don’t listen to anything else I say, listen to this: Don’t talk to people about your upcoming surgery. I can’t stress this enough. People will do one of two things. Dismiss your surgery as no big deal. This will fly all over you. They’re not the ones getting cut on. Or, even worse, they will tell you the horror stories of friends, acquaintances, Russian dissidents they’ve heard about who had terrible results with their surgery. Terrible results. You don’t need to hear these disaster stories. Surgery is serious business. Any surgery. You need to go into it with the best possible frame of mind. Protect your frame of mind by saying, “Yes, I’m getting a new hip. How are your (fill in the blank: children/grandchildren/dogs/pet iguanas) doing?”

Fine lines. Walk them carefully, and you will be fine.

Easter Questions

My priest today said during the Easter season to keep asking questions, so here are mine:

* Why do we ask, “Why didn’t she leave him?” Why don’t we ask, “Why does he keep hitting her?”

* Can we view the world as a blob rather than a pyramidal hierarchy or dichotomy? No more top and bottom; no more this and that. Can we see it as us in one messy all?

* Why doesn’t Memphis claim the title of Cradle of Creativity? The Blues, Rock-and-Roll, Soul, Jooking, Crunk—is there another city that has birthed as many American musical styles? (This is a real question; LMK if there is)

* Can we start putting up statues to achievements? Wars are not achievements. Wars are failures. When we honor our dead with statues, we are trying to glean something good from something horrible. Why don’t we praise the just plain good?

* Where are the feminine or gender-neutral equivalents of brethren? Does anyone say “sistren”?

* Why do I notice every damn “he” we use in our Episcopal liturgy to the point I feel excluded by the sexist language and must orally interlineate changes constantly? (“Blessed is he who comes in the name of …”; “Praise him all creatures here below”). Am I the only Episcopalian who doesn’t see God as male?

* And while I’m complaining about the church service that birthed this practice of questioning (beware, always beware), why do hymn writers believe they can use words that orally do not rhyme (e.g.,”When Thomas first the tidings heard, how they’d seen the risen Lord”) Or am I supposed to sing “the risen Lerd”? Surely the lyricists remember the words will be SUNG?

* How long will it take me to accept the truth that I cannot enjoy new beginnings without first experiencing endings?

* Did Peeps become such a cultural icon because no one actually eats them?

* Will I soon travel to Ferguson, Missouri or North Charleston, SC or the next site of police killings of a Black man or woman? Am I living through the next iteration of the civil rights era I thought I’d studied only as history?

* If Hillary Clinton is elected president, will we experience a breakout of female hatred the way we’ve experienced racial hatred in reaction to President Obama?

* Is it “politics” if the lament comes to me naturally?

* What happened to the raccoon who used to climb my cottonwood tree at night, stealthy as Dracula?

* Do we truly appreciate the unalloyed moments of happiness when they present?

* Who will want my celluloid bunny collection when I die?


* How did I get so lucky as to have this life I have? How do I reconcile the joy I’ve been given with the pain so many experience?

* Did your pastor speak of Walter Scott today?

* Would your view of race differ if you realized you, in fact, have African blood?

* And yet and still, with all this enlightenment, why do I love The Mentalist?

© 2017 - Ellen Morris Prewitt |