Saturday, January 2, 2010

manuscript blindness

Revision, at first, is a joy. You get a second chance. A third. A fourth. You get all these chances to get it right. Life does not give you that. So, yeah, blessing.

But you get to the point when you can go no further. You wonder if you’ve gone far enough or too far. You can’t see it clearly anymore. You have to let the manuscript alone then and try to get other readers.

It’s just part of the process. You’re creating a world, characters in that world, a story they live in that world. It is hard work. It is hard to get right. You do the best you can, take the manuscript the furthest you can, and hope you get help from your critique group, friends, agent, editor, or whoever can offer help to point out things you’ve missed.

One thing that I have struggled with myself in revision is getting far enough away from the manuscript to be analytical about the whole thing. I’m pretty good at seeing problems with language, but I struggle at the big changes sometimes needed in character and sometimes plot. I think this is because it becomes real to me and because it’s real, fixed. How can I change reality? (Must be some kind of selective amnesia because, hello, I made the whole thing up.) This is only true after I’ve revised and revised the manuscript to that point of manuscript blindness, a place we all reach sooner or later. But once there, it gets harder to change. I think that is the point when you really have to ask yourself the tough questions. What does this scene accomplish? How does it push the narrative forward or deepen the reader’s understanding of character? You have to look at the worth of your scenes in terms of the whole. Do they all belong? If they do belong have you devoted the right amount of emphasis to each?

For me one of the most difficult things is narrative drive. I tend to focus more on language and character. My editor was very helpful in my last manuscript because she’s good with plot. She kept asking me this question: what does this scene add to the narrative? Now sometimes I’ll keep a scene in for other reasons, but asking yourself this question and trying to articulate the importance of each scene in terms of narrative can be very helpful to your skills as a storyteller and the story you’re trying to tell.

2 comments:

Tia said...

Brian, I have a request for you. I'd appreciate it if you could add labels to your posts (character, plot, etc) and a list of labels on the side. I'm thinking seriously about starting to write a novel, and I'll no doubt need to come to your blog for guidance.

Well, it's just a suggestion. :)

brian yansky said...

Hi Tia--Thanks for reading--sure, that's a good idea. I'll add general labels to id and organize a bit.