Saturday, May 29, 2010

Novel Editing: questions and observations

As a child I dreamed of writing a novel.

No, that's not totally true. I dreamed of publishing a novel; I wrote my first novel about age ten. It was about a magic rock that a couple of kids found; seventy-two pages written by hand on lined notebook paper. The final pages were written as I sat in my grandmother's classroom as she taught the mixed grades class in the two-room school house; it was my spring break.

After that I wrote mostly short stories and tons and tons of poetry, a couple of scripts, and wrote for school newspapers and yearbooks.

My dream of publishing a novel reverted back to writing a novel as I continued to do more journalistic style writing : newsletters, business memos, public relations releases, an so forth.

Then I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try, believing that the experience would help me - out of necessity - get out of my own way and just write. It worked and I did. I have attempted NaNoWriMo twice and have been a winner - passed the 50,000 word mark in 30 days - twice.

Now I'm deep in the editing and revision process of the first NaNoNovel. And, while writing is not new, editing a whole novel is. I've written about this before: the one day/word/bird at a time thing. I've been making notes. Doing bits of research on place and procedure. I've made note cards (instead of an outline; I did a non-standard outline as I went along writing The Novel), and margin notes. Driven to a city where part of the story takes place and took pictures.

The story has a book central to its theme that I had never read. Today I finished reading that book, with underlining and margin notes in that book and notes about my book. Surprisingly to me, the places where the stories overlap? I hit some of it right on the metaphorical nail and the compatibility is good. There are some changes to be made - but, wow, I'm surprised how little on that account.

Tonight I was wondering:
- when is research and making notes helpful?
-- is there a time when it becomes procrastination of rewriting instead?
--- how do I know which it is?
- how long should a mystery ghost story novel be?
-- how many characters are too many?
--- there are three primary stories which will intersect later on; playing with different approaches to presenting them in the novel (in chunks of their own; interspersed; 1/2/3 pattern or will random and more organic work?)

This week on my novel I've accomplished:
- some reordering of main chapters/sections
- identified which incidents are precidents for which other incidents; identified a couple of key events that must happen before other story pieces
- made maps of the three primary areas where the story takes place; for one I even found a house plan that works perfectly for one couple's primary residence
- identified some important changes that need to happen for it to read well and make sense in a couple of key areas.

I'm afraid I might be on the edge of research and preparation becoming procrastination. Any suggestions on how I can tell -- any warning signs that I may be avoiding the rewrite. One perspective I have is that all work on the novel is putting "energy into the field" (as Pamela would say) of my intention to bring this novel to publication - be it revising, researching, moving sections around.


  1. Dot,
    I wish I had answers to your questions, as that would mean I'm further along in my editing as well.

    I think, with all things writing, balance is the key. Research (and character development exercises) can certainly be a way to enhance a novel, as well as put off the writing of a novel.

    I just did an exercise on character development, which turned out to be more like a rewrite of the first chapter for my novel. Now, I can't procrastinate any more, unless I want that rewrite energy to fade -- which I don't!

    I also love the quote from Pamela: all that work - no matter what it is - still goes towards that dream!

  2. The good news: I did some actual physical reordering of chapters/sections today! About halfway through that process. Once I get the papers cut and moved I will see how it flows. Interesting thing is that, even before I have it done, I can already see some unevenness of the pieces of the novel.

    I need to do some character development on a couple of them in mine, too. I realized that one person - who ended up being pivotal in the whole thing - was very skeletal in his appearance throughout most of the book.

    And, as much as I hate to say it, the person I thought was my main character - isn't! And may not be.

    This entire novel has been such a great experience: challenging and fun and frustrating and surprising. And I still like it.

    That's good. 'Cuz there's a lot more to go.

    Thanks, Christi.