Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why Revising and Adapting are twins

While I was out east, I had the wonderful opportunity to daily learn new writing tips, tricks and rules from Regina Doman. My favorite line is that I could learn more from Regina in a half-hour than I could from a semester of college classes.

One of the most valuable aids Regina gave me was her critique of the first chapter of my current novel. It is a chapter I have been struggling with ever since I first wrote it (which would have been back in the fall of 2008). Though I asked advice from many friends and family members, no one could give me concrete advice towards solving the problem.

Then, in about ten minutes, Regina calmly, graciously and brilliantly told me exactly what was wrong in the chapter and also exactly how I could fix it.

I love Regina.

First of all, I had to cut the chapter down by about a third. Regina's advice was to cut out anything that wasn't absolutely necessary, and to cut all the dialogue by half.

You see, the first three chapters in your novel are what you are going to show an agent. So it is those three chapters, plus your synopsis, that basically sell the book. If those chapters aren't tight, an agent is most likely not going to ask to see the rest of the manuscript.

Regina made me take every scene and ask "What is my heroine's goal?" With that question in mind, I had to restructure the chapter so that every paragraph was pushing towards that goal. This creates a drive that will keep a reader (and hopefully an agent!) reading.

As I was doing this, I realized that the mindset in revising a chapter (or a book) is very similar to what I've had to do in the past when I've adapted books for film. Writing a screenplay is a very similar process. You can't put anything on screen that doesn't have a point, and therefore every word of every line has to go under a magnifying glass. "Do I really need this? Does it advance the story? Does it tell us something? Could we convey the same information with a visual image?" These are all questions that writers of any kind should consider. I think they are easy to forget or ignore when writing a book because there is more space on a printed page than in a minute of film. And usually more pages in a book than minutes in a film! Also, a one second clip on film can convey what some writers seem to need a whole page to describe in their books.

Once I got myself into this mindset, editing became a much easier process. I had written the story, now I just had to revise it for an audience.

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