Shelley Widhalm

Revision Obsession

In 52: A Writer's Life, Revising, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on February 17, 2013 at 11:00 am

I got so caught up in revising my novel that I skipped my weekly blog last week.

In other words, I fell off the blog wagon, particularly considering that I almost skipped this week, too, until I remembered my cyber-promise.

In 2013, I plan to write a blog a week about writing, revising and editing for 52:A Writer’s Life. Given my mess-up, my blog should be renamed 51, but that wouldn’t fit with the one-year plan.

I have 40 pages left to revise in my 287-page novel that used to be 298 pages. I cut and added, rearranged and rewrote, spending about 30 hours on the first draft. I plan to spend Monday (which is my Sunday) finishing the revision that is directly on the computer.

As I revise (my next draft will be marking up a printout version), I am trying to get to the core of my story. My novel, “The Fire Painter,” is about a 30-something artist who loses everything in an apartment fire and, as she searches for her lost things, finds what’s really important.

To bore down to that core:

• I cut unnecessary details that didn’t push the story forward, like descriptions of clothing when just one or two items was enough, such as Megan’s short skirt and scarf. I didn’t need her crop top mentioned, too, even though she likes to show off her model thin body.

• I cut partial scenes that were near repeats of other scenes (what was I thinking?). Patricia, a benefactress who donates art supplies to Kate after she lost hers, shows Kate the same photograph twice, when I meant for that to happen once. Ty, Kate’s love interest, asks her out on two similar dates; though that happens in real life, it doesn’t work in the story world.

• I added to the dialogue with physical actions and emotional responses when I was confused over who was speaking.

• I expanded scenes where there seemed to be a gap in logistics, action or response among characters.

• I tightened my descriptions, deleting unnecessary words and actions to simplify what I was expressing.

As I edited, I worked to smooth my story, removing any rough spots that are jarring to the ear or the mind. The story remains rough, because for me I require at least half a dozen revisions before I believe I’ve found the core. At that point, I put the story aside for six or more months, enabling a new perspective and more fine-tuning.

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