Revising the Novel: Hotels and What If’s
|Hard work, all spread out. Notice the yellow cards. Those are my “what if’s.”|
On a whim, Brad suggested I join him for his clinicals on Thursday and Friday of this week. Between his clinicals all over the state, my martial arts and running committments, and my once-a-month short trips to somewhere for the book…we’ve been a bit flustered. I loved his idea immediately, booked a room at Hampton Inn via Rocketmiles (my new fave), and tossed a limited number of items into a duffel.
The emphasis there is on the word “limited.” Yes, I have two other major projects under deadline right now. Yes, I have three inquiries for new jobs awaiting reply in my inbox (sadly, I’m booked through August–or maybe that’s a good thing). Yes, I could have used a few more hours sleep this morning instead of getting up early to hit the road. But when it came time to pack, none of the items necessary for completing those tasks made it into my bag.
A change of scenery, however bland, can work wonders. When I’m feeling overloaded, the kind of change that inspires focused creativity requires keeping it simple. I dropped Brad off at the clinic, checked into the hotel, and was at the desk by 8:30am, tearing into my second cup of coffee for the day. I turned my wi-fi off, closed the curtains, spread my papers across the bed, kicked off my shoes, changed into yoga pants, and got to work.
The task? Keep revising the novel, of course. Only this time, with a limited number of hours in my sterile. self-imposed cell, the pressure was on…and in a good way. I charged the cost of the room to my business credit card, upping the ante even more. This is a business trip. I’d better stick to business.
And that I did, stopping mid-morning for a workout in the exercise room (while I ran on the treadmill, I played a made-for-TV movie about a writer, trying to make it big, of all things) and then again in mid-afternoon for lunch and a quick glance at email (only to put out any fires). Then, back to work.
My goal for the first day was to re-read the revisions I’ve completed (116 pages) so far, watching for slivers of moments that I can more clearly characterize my protagonists. As I worked, I thought about what they want, how they act when they don’t get what they want, and how far they’re willing to go to get it. I thought about escalation, and what people do privately versus what they do publicly, when they’re under the gun. By letting those concepts cluster in the back of my mind as I read and re-read my pages, I was able to make tiny, but crucial, changes to the work in progress.
…The point being that I need to pave my way for the final third of the novel as best as possible. If I can get my characters to be as whole, realistic, and developed as possible up to that point, I’ll more confidently know what to do with them come end-time.
…The other point being that it’s important to consider the what if’s. These are the ideas that come creeping into my mind as I’m revising. And in the later stages of revising, when my brain knows things like structure, setting, and reaction are doing what they need to do on the page–it opens in a way that becomes crucial to deeper fine-tuning. I’ve worked hard to learn how to identify the teaser what if’s versus the signifiant what if’s, the latter primarily hitting me in the solar plexus as soon as the thought enters my mind. If it’s a good idea, I can tell almost instantly, seeing precisely what needs to move (or be cut) and why. The changes I often choose to make end up increasing the tension, steepening an arc, or clarifying a theme.
My goal for tomorrow is to pursue some of those what if’s. Here’s a glimpse what’s on my yellow card (see above pic) so far:
- Move Chapter 5 so it follows Chapters 6 & 7. (Done–the result being that now Aaseya appears by page 35 of of the novel, instead of page 55, and all I had to do was change the sunrise/daytime references in Chapter 5 to sunset/evening references.)
- Make Folson disappear from the narrative for a while. (Why? So that readers forget about him, making the shocking end of his narrative arc all the more powerful.)
- Explore Rauchmann more. (Why? To distract from Folson, and subconsciously plant the seed that our worry and focus should be on Rauchmann. How wrong we’ll be…)
- Make Folson’s black eye reappear in the concluding scenes of the novel. (Why? It’s mundane throughout the novel so far, but later, seeing Folson’s full arc, readers will encounter the black eye one last time and see that it wasn’t mundane at all–in fact, it was a hint at what lay ahead.)
Do all what if’s come from Hampton Inn hotel rooms? Of course not. But they do come from careful focus. With spring buzzing in my ear and wedding plans in full bloom, I had to get away. And yes, I’m already scheming for Brad’s next clinical assignment in a few weeks…