Monster News

Recently I went through the exercise of distilling a 500+ page novel down into an entertaining 20 double-spaced pages. Dang. It’s not a place for my ramblin’ style; it’s all about being to the point, moving along, yet still creating sympathy for at least one character and providing a good read. At the heart of it is the question, “If I could have written it in twenty pages, don’t you think I would have?”

But it has been a rewarding exercise. That came home tonight as I worked through the comments from people who provided feedback for the synopsis. The most magical moments were when I read comments that forced me to distill into a few words the key moments in the book. With that understanding I can look back on the big fat pile of prose and see where I missed opportunities, or simply didn’t articulate what I meant to say. There are now parts of the synopsis that serve as criticism of the larger work. When I am sure the distilled ideas of the synopsis are sharply represented in the novel, I’ll feel much better about the whole work.

I have read long, disjointed, incoherent works from established writers, and I wonder if the novel would have been different if the writer had been forced to write a synopsis. It’s a hell of a chore, and when I’m big-time and I don’t have to do it any more I’m sure I won’t. So please, when the third novel comes out with my name bigger than the title on the cover, but you read it and it kind of sucks, drop me an email and say, “maybe you should write a synopsis of the next one, and pass it around.”

Seeing the holes in the story I feel better about it than ever. I am filled with an arrogant self-deception, an optimism that says if I fix all the problems all that’s left is art. It’s a silly conceit when put that way, but the business is 90% perspiration, right?

One thing I’d like to ask the real writers is, “How do you keep the art through endless revisions?”

All right, I rambling now, in a muddled way, and it’s time to stop.

6 thoughts on “Monster News

  1. Sure thing. I’m just wrapping up some edits based on the great feedback I’ve gotten so far. I’ll do that this eve and next time I’m on the air I’ll pop it your way.

  2. “How do you keep the art through endless revisions?”

    I’m not a real writer, and don’t play one on TV (never even watch the stuff).

    Buuuut, I have known (superficially, at least) and even dated real writers, and one technique I have heard about was to completely rewrite each revision, to always write anew, as it were.

    I have found that trying to dig into (and repair) the guts of something written and keep the flow of it is often harder than writing.

    I know, painful to contemplate such labor…however I have had to rewrite things because a power failure or other problem demolished my story or poem, and have found that I was able to reconstruct the piece on the original frame, similar to the way old wooden boats are rebuilt, replacing most of the wood, but keeping the “lines” of her intact.

    All writing is a misrepresentation of the truth,and tinkering with untruth seems to be as difficult as tinkering with truth. In a way, with a novel, one is trying to fabricate a veracity, and as long as the integrity of shape is there, the revision should be fine.

    Try rewriting a chapter once, see what happens. Let us know how it works.

    I think it’s kind of like any other form of craftsmanship, that working carefully (the hard way) actually saves time in the end.

  3. Reminds me of something Tony Hillerman once told me … when he writes a novel, he starts with Chapter 1, and then he continues to write the novel. When he’s done, he throws out Chapter 1 and writes a completely new chapter that actually matches what happened later in the novel.

    OK, so he didn’t tell just me, he told a whole writers’ conference in Las Cruces. But before he got up to speak, I was sitting next to him (I didn’t know who he was), and he was working on a manuscript, and he asked me to help him with a bit. So if you really squint hard, you might see a teeny glimpse of my fingerprint in the editing of one scene of “The Dark Wind.”

  4. cd, no matter what you say, you are a writer. That was a good bit, and solid advice. I had been thinking about how people in the “old days” could possibly manage to write a novel, and maybe that’s part of the answer. In geek speak, you treat your drafts as immutable, not the endlessly plastink things that are never done.

    Typo retained with intent.

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