Sunday, January 31, 2016

Doing the Work of a Seventh Revision

By Kasie Whitener 

I tell my writing students all the time that they need to draft long before the assignment is due. There is nothing that improves revision like time away from your writing.

I’ve been away from Being Blue for six weeks, having given it over to an editor. He’s now sending it back to me in chunks: So many corrections. So many suggested changes.

When the editor claims the narrator has no personality, I think, “Of course he does!” but after six weeks away, I read the edited draft and I can see what he meant.

So what do I do?

This revision process is new. Usually I’m looking at something that hasn’t yet been revised and the errors are so obvious, they’re easy to address. But this is the seventh version of Being Blue.

In previous revisions I answered the big, obvious questions:

What is the story, really?

Who is this person, the narrator?

To whom is he telling the story and why?

Revision is harder this time. Those questions are insufficient. They are macro questions, they deal with the novel as a whole, its entirety. In version seven, I have to look at the scenes, individually, and ask micro questions.

The last time I experienced this, I was working on the opening scene of After December, a book currently under consideration by a publisher. In the first scene, the main character is naked in bed with his girlfriend and answers the phone when his father calls.

During the seventh revision I asked, “Why would he answer the phone?”

Being Blue is a complex narrative with two concurrent stories, one in Geneva, Switzerland in 1816 and one in Ransom, Kansas, in 2002. I made a choice early on to call the narratives Geneva and Kansas - not the micro level city name and not the macro level country name, but in between - state and province.

Being in between is a precarious place.

My narrator sits there, everything in his life is “in between.” His narrative therefore is not detailed enough to be micro but not distant enough to be macro.

Every scene has to challenge Blue’s precarious balance: Between being a vampire and acting human, between being immortal and killing to sustain himself. Between protecting his sire’s wife and wanting her for himself. Between respecting his sire and wanting to kill him.

Blue spends the entire novel at crossroads, trying like hell to keep from choosing despite everyone around him forcing a choice. Why won’t he choose? Why does he think balance is so important?

Balance is safety. What could possibly be more difficult to balance than a time-traveling vampire?

As Blue focuses on balance, everyone else must challenge it. Establishing balance will require Blue to be aware of the imbalance and his narrative of that awareness should add more depth to his voice.

Align the micro details with the answers to the macro questions. Ensure every scene works within the overall concept. That’s the work of the seventh revision.

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