I was so hoping, Dear Blog Reader, that by now I'd finally be in the throes of the publishing process and would have tons of juicy insider bits to share with you. Unfortunately--like most things in life--my journey toward getting this book published is not going according to plan. As detailed in my post The Summer of Crazy, my agent says I have some more work to do. I've spent the last three months revising the first third of the manuscript and now I have to do it again.
This is no small revision. I'm eliminating a plot that's going nowhere, changing all the characters' relationships toward each other (which basically means that every line of dialogue and every action between them has to be reconsidered), and get the story moving sooner. It feels a lot like building a beautiful piece of furniture, taking an ax to it, and then trying to rebuild it from the splinters. It's hard to make the pieces fit, but incredibly satisfying when they finally do.
What is surprising me about the process, though, is just how much stuff I'm able to cut out every time I go over it. Even though my prose can hardly be described as "lean", I like to think that I tell a pretty tight story. There are many points in the process where removing a paragraph or scene seems to jeopardize many other parts of the book. More often, though, in an effort to get the plot rolling faster, I'm finding just how much I can cut without affecting the story at all. It's scary and liberating and disconcerting all at the same time. Once I start swinging the ax, I can't stop. I wonder sometimes if I'm getting carried away. Am I going, once again, in the completely wrong direction?
Then I heard a great piece of writing advice from an unlikely source...The Princess Diaries 2 movie.
|I had trouble determining if using the original movie poster image on my blog fell under 'fair use'. Let's pretend this is a royalty-free picture of Anne Hathaway, shall we?|
My daughters were home sick (they're twins--they do everything together) and wanted to watch The Princess Diaries 2. When the movie was over, we watched the deleted scenes, introduced by director Garry Marshall. One scene in particular caught my attention. Anne Hathaway was poking around the hidden corners of the castle and found a secret passage hidden behind a wall. We follow her for several minutes in the hidden room until she discovers something that plays an important part later on in the movie (I'll refrain from spoiling it for you). While Hathaway's discovery is crucial to the plot, the director ended up cutting the scene. In the final cut of the movie, you see Anne Hathaway disappear behind a hidden wall and that's basically it.
Marshall explained that he cut the scene because it had slowed down the pace of the movie and there was still enough information there for the audience to fit the pieces together. And that's when he said something so simple and so brilliant it should be heeded by directors and writers everywhere: "You think you have to explain everything, but you don't."
This bit of wisdom reaffirmed when I had been discovering during my revision--much of what I'd written was explanation of things that didn't need to be thoroughly explained. I'd found moments when I'd gone on for paragraphs about a bit of background when one sentence was enough. Rather than describing how a character feels toward another character, a line of dialogue could convey the relationship instead. Other things didn't need to be mentioned at all. As long as I was aware of the forces shaping my characters, I didn't need to clue the reader in on everything.
Art is shaped not only by what is present but also by what is absent. Sculpture is formed by what is removed. Rhythm is defined not only by the beats but by the rests. Fiction comes alive not only by what is written, but by what is left out. Simple, obvious, but not always easy in practice.