Sunday, September 20, 2015

Doing the Hard Work of a Novel

I have just started a 10-week course on novel writing at the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative.

Unlike the rest of our offerings, which are free, this session costs $200, so I'm taking it seriously, determined to make the most of my time and investment. I want to improve my novel, to make it the best it can be before sending it out to agents.

Frankly, it's intimidating to do this again, because I've spent a considerable number of hours both editing and cutting the novel, "Emilee's Song," and submitting to a agents, who were generally positive. But here I am again, reworking it. In a way, I'm tired of fooling around with it, but I refuse to quit on what I know is a damn good read. It needs a few tweaks, and that's where I'm heading.

Already, Rich Marcello, the workshop presenter, has told me the writing is beautiful (alright!!!), but I seem to have too many points of view in motion. He's suggested that I consider paring them down.

Oh agony, that I should silence a voice!

But I know, intuitively, that he has a good point. POV is my trouble spot. Too many head-popping viewpoints tend to slap the narration around, confusing the reader. They can interfere with flow, disrupt focus, even mislead readers into thinking a secondary character is a primary character.

I have already silenced one of my favorites, an old crow named Mrs. Webb, relegating her to secondary status even though I had written (and have now deleted) a wonderful scene in which she confronts herself in a mirror and despairs of her aging body and others' perceptions. I did this before anyone suggested it, because I knew that I was venturing into a too-personal take on a minor character, whose main function is to amuse. She suffices as a busybody with a lot of relatable (and despicable) qualities.

So I am examining my writer's conscience, as suggested. Are there other characters that can be fully represented but not given a direct voice (POV) in the novel? Should they be treated that way?

I think the truth—hard as it will be to rewrite scenes—is yes. It may hurt, and intimidate to look critically at your writing, but you have to be open to suggestion and critique if you want to make your work as good as it can be. I realized something in trying to summarize my story for Rich; it felt disorganized, confusing. I had my own little literary epiphany right then.

There is a way to do this without silencing secondary characters; I'm already hot on the trail of new scenes, meant to remove a character from first-person reflection and relate their thoughts and reactions through conversations.

I am fully aware of the danger, and—at this point in my writing career—in control of the risks. I believe I can do this without hurting my story. I will still fight to retain what I believe in, and can truly justify, but I'll do the work on the other stuff—the things that are B+ work, when they could be A's.

We'll see how that goes.

(Some suggested reading, if you're doing this at home: "The Power of Point of View," Alicia Rasley; "The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing," Leder & Heffron; "Your First 50 Pages," Jeff Gerke; "How to Write a Damn Good Novel," James Frey; "Your First Novel," (chapters 1-9), Rittenberg and Whitcomb; "The Making of a Story," Alice LaPlante.)

Ann Connery Frantz spent years in newspaper journalism before switching to freelance writing and editing. Her short story, "Samaritan," won the 2010 Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Award for Fiction. She writes about book clubs and authors for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette.

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