#Edit or #Revise? Why not both?

In the craft of writing, editing is accepted as a necessary evil. We all realize that our sentences must be properly punctuated, our noun/verb combinations must agree, our sentence and paragraph structure must meet certain recognizable norms.

Yes, there are exceptions. Books are written in verse. Writers experiment with no dialogue tags, single-sentence paragraphs, and chapters that consist of fewer than 10 sentences. And at least one author, Cormac McCarthy, has eschewed the use of almost all punctuation.

But for most of us, editing is an acceptable, if somewhat mundane, chore.

Revision, on the other hand, is greeted with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Revision is “hard”. Revision is “based on someone else’s opinion” and is “not the way I write.”

Yet revision can be the most satisfactory part of writing.

cat on book

I’m not talking about the “Revise & Resubmit” advice an agent or editor may give, and which any author is free to accept or reject. I’m talking about recognizing the shortcomings in our own work, and making a concerted effort to improve them.

In a previous post, I talked about the books, primarily mysteries, that my grandmother and my mother have bequeathed to me. A few days ago, I was reading one by Ed McBain, an author very popular in the 70s-90s, whose style of terse conversation and fact-based investigation is a bit Hemingway-esque. McBain’s most popular book is probably HEAT, and if you’ve ever seen that movie FUZZ where Burt Reynolds dresses up as a nun to catch the bad guy, you know the one I mean. But the point is, in this book, POISON, McBain waxed poetic over the weather. Not the spring or summer weather, or even autumn. But winter weather.

It was unexpected, and breathtakingly beautiful. I can do that, I says to myself. In my first novel, LET THE CANYONS WEEP, I have a scene where the winter weather is at the heart of a conflict. I can make it much more dramatic. I can almost make it a character – an antagonist – in its own right.

That started me off. The next question was: where do I have weather? Or time of day? Or anything that has to do with the characters’ surroundings. I can do this. I will do this!

In most cases, it doesn’t take much. The description of a table as old and scarred; of a porch as sagging around its posts; of a cabin with grass that’s been seared to gray. Sometimes the scene calls for more than a few words. As an example, I’ve made a change at a critical point in the story. I started out with:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour.

Everyone’s heard “it’s always darkest before the dawn.” Most of us have spent at least one night awake, drunk or sober (oops, did I say that?) and have experienced it for ourselves. The sentence as it stands brings that idea to the mind of the reader.

But so much more has happened, so much terror and heartache was revealed in the previous chapter, that the opening was really, really trite. Revision created this:

When he left her, the night was at its darkest hour. The stars had faded, the tired old moon had set. But the night was no blacker than the wound on his heart.

And now, it’s not just a dark hour in the night. There’s a complete lack of light. And a more complete understanding of the character’s emotions.

Revising is difficult, yes. It takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a whole lot of willingness to look at those perfect words we wrote and find a way to make them better.

No one can deny the importance of editing – every comma needs to be in its place, every pronoun needs to refer to the right person. But revision – I’ve come to believe that’s what makes the difference between a good book and a great one.

What are you working on now, and what specific revisions have you made or do you intend to make?

Rory O’More, Traditional Irish Tune

One of my favorites! This traditional song is a perfect rendition of the pull-and-tug between a courting couple: a man who’s madly in love, and a woman who’s trying to ‘play it cool’. You can find a version of it by the inimitable Wolfe Tones here.

 

RORY O’MORE

Young Rory O’More courted Kathleen bawn.
He was bold as a hawk and she soft as the dawn.
He wished in his heart pretty Kathleen to please,
And he thought the best way to do that was to tease.
“Now, Rory, be easy,” sweet Kathleen would cry,
Reproof on her lip but a smile in her eye.
“With your tricks I don’t know in troth what I’m about.
Faith, you’ve teased ’til I’ve put on my cloak inside out!”

“Oh, jewel,” says Rory, “that same is the way
You’ve treated my heart for this many a day.
And ’tis pleased that I am and why not, to be sure?
For ’tis all for good luck,” says bold Rory O’More.
“Indeed then,” says Kathleen, “don’t think of the like,
For I half gave a promise to soothering Mike.
The ground that I walk on he loves, I’ll be bound.”
“Faith,” says Rory, “I’d rather love you than the ground.”

“Now, Rory, I’ll cry if you don’t let me go;
Sure I dream every night that I’m hating you so.”
“Oh,” says Rory, “that same I’m delighted to hear,
For dreams always go by contrairies my dear.
Oh, jewel, keep dreaming that same till you die,
And bright morning will give dirty night the black lie.
And ’tis pleased that I am and why not, to be sure?
Since ’tis all for good luck,” says bold Rory O’More.

“Arrah, Kathleen, my darling you’ve teased me enough!
Sure I’ve thrashed for your sake Dinny Grimes and Jim Duff.
And I’ve made myself drinking your health quite a beast,
So I think after that I may talk to the priest.”
Then Rory, the rogue, stole his arm round her neck,
So soft and so white without freckle or speck,
And he looked in her eyes that were beaming with light,
And he kissed her sweet lips – don’t you think he was right?

“Now, Rory, leave off sir, you’ll hug me no more;
That’s eight times today and you’ve kissed me before!”
“Then here goes another,” says he, “to make sure,
For there’s luck in odd numbers!” says Rory O’More.

#Quote of the Week: Edward R. Murrow

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men – not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

-Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965)

WHEN HE IS GONE, American Folk Song

#amwriting #music

Some say this Appalachian folk song dates from the Civil War, and identify it as the lament of a girl for her beau that’s gone to war and her promise to remain faithful until he returns. The theme, however, seems to be Scottish, as it bears some distinct semblance to Lass of the Roch Royal (also known as Child #76), and I believe it may date from the late 18th century, as the phrase “10,000 miles” is meaningless in terms of the Civil War but does make sense for the British Empire.

You can listen to a brilliant version of it by West Jackson Middle School (Jefferson, GA) girls’ chorus here. Pay special attention to the first sopranos’ note on “kiss” – amazing! This is the way I learned it many, many moons ago.

WHEN HE IS GONE

He’s gone away
For to stay a little while,
But he’s coming back
If he goes 10,000 miles.

Oh who will tie my shoe,
And who will glove my hand?
And who will kiss
My ruby lips when he is gone?

(Refrain)  Look away,
Look away over yondro.

He’s gone away for to stay
A little while,
But he’s coming back
If he goes 10,000 miles.

And it’s papa will tie my shoe,
And it’s mama will glove my hand,
And none will kiss my ruby lips
When he is gone.

(Refrain)  Look away,
Look away over yondro.

I look away down the street
Where he has gone,
And I wonder how I will live
All thru the day, oh.

Will he ever come?
Oh will he ever come?
I always feel I’ll see him come
From far away.

(refrain)  Far away,
Far away, over yondro.

#Quote of the Week

#quotes #Resistance

You can’t wake a person who is pretending to sleep.

-Navajo Proverb

I don’t normally follow my Quote of the Week with a comment. I like people to be able to read the quotes I find important and see if it applies in any way to his or her own experiences. Let everyone interpret them according to their own vision.

I also don’t usually use this blog for statements on public affairs.

But today is different.

Today, I believe that too many of us are pretending to sleep. Pretending that what’s going on in our country has no far-reaching effects. Pretending that since this is America, we can’t possibly lose the rights we fought for in 1776, in 1863, in 1876, in 1965, and in 1973.

Pretending that since what’s being done is done in the name of patriotism and security, it’s all OK. Because we need to be patriotic, right? We need to be secure, right? And that’s what matters most of all… right?

And I find it heartbreakingly appropriate that this particular quote comes from Native Americans.

I’m not trying to make anyone change their minds; I know I can’t persuade anyone to believe something they don’t accept. But I am asking if you would just take a close, honest look at what’s happening right now. Here and all over the world.

See if you think the ends justify the means.

 

Getting back in the swing of things

#amwriting #sabbatical

So, it seems that I managed to take another 8-week sabbatical this holiday season. However, unlike last year, this one was not full of family, friends, and celebrations (although we spent a lovely day at my brother’s house on Christmas). At home, we had only one tree instead of our usual five, and only two of our wreaths made it out of their boxes. While I had managed to get the cookie jars and reindeer distributed, there wasn’t a single Santa, snowman, angel, polar bear or penguin to be seen.

No, at the beginning of December, I managed to wreck my knee. Not quite sure how, as the pain wasn’t there before I stood up. I don’t remember falling, or tripping – though I have to confess I trip so often it wouldn’t register in and of itself. I am definitely not a Tuesday child full of grace, and when they make a Sunday Child, grace is the one positive attribute they just happen to leave out.

At any rate, I’ve spent the last 8 weeks using a walker or wheelchair and in pretty extreme pain. Things are finally getting better, but it’s following that old “two steps forward, one step back” rule. And since painkillers tend to make me less than lucid, I’ve spent my time reading instead of writing or blogging.

But I’ve made some real progress in my reading: my grandmother left me about 600 mystery novels published from the 50s to 70s, and I’ve chewed my way through about half of them. Some are great, some are pretty pitiful, but all of the authors were popular when the books were printed. Many of them would have a very hard time finding an audience now.

Styles have changed so much through the past 30 years or so. Leisurely descriptions are no longer in vogue. Dialogue tags, however fanciful, are frowned upon. And adverbs – heaven help the author who puts an adverb in every paragraph.

No, right now the pros tell use that the use of language must be limited to nouns, verbs and a smattering of adjectives. Description cannot be flowerly, cannot exist for the mere sake of description. Every single word must add to characterization or move the plot along.

Last year, I read several modern books, most of which came highly recommended. One of them stood out from the pack: What Boys Are Made Of by S. Hunter Nisbet. Not because the writing was flowery, or there were leisurely descriptions, or because adverbs abounded. No, because the minimalist style was so beautifully suited to the story. It would be hard for me to imagine that book being so effective if it were written in any other style.

If What Boys Are Made Of had been a romance, I’d have been very disappointed in the style and flavor of it. Yet I’ve read romances that utilize that same style; they’ve left no lasting impression on me.

One of the hardest things for writers right now, I believe, is to decide WHICH style rules to follow, WHAT style best suits our story. With so many people – professional writers and editors, textbook creators, and bloggers like you and me – putting their advice out there for everyone to see, it’s simply not possible to write a book and follow all these rules.

So get out there and be daring! Tell your love story with flowery descriptions, your hero-quest with profligate adverbs, your historical with dauntingly clear details of the scenery. Give it a go!

You’ll never know how good it can be if you don’t try it.

Because the best thing about writing in this day and age is that if you don’t like what you come up with, it’s really easy to revise.