Thursday, October 30, 2008

Revisions, Round 2

I'm sitting down with the essay/post originally titled "Stars, Doubts, Girls" again today. I took a few days off from looking at it or thinking about it because that always seems to help. For one, it lets me come at it with fresh eyes that have forgotten most of what's there, so I can evaluate it as a stranger would. For two, it gives my mind time to work things out subconsciously, and I always have more ideas this way. Normally I'd take even more time off, but since it's such a short piece and we have such a short history together, it was easy to forget (is this some sort of sad parallel for SG herself?)

Anyway, before I get too far into it and before I post the results here, I want to say a few things about how I'm revising, about how I am deciding what to do. It seems to me that this essay has three moving parts that need attention: narrative, meditation, and what-its-really-about.

The narrative, of course, is the story itself, and the standard for revision there is honesty and interestingness. I want it to be snappy, to draw the reader on to the next sentence and the next, and to sound like me. And since I've said it is a true story, I want it to be accurate. That's why I changed the names of those present in the first sentence when I found out exactly who was there—it's a small thing, of course, but it makes for a good habit. More important is how I portray my thoughts and emotions from years ago, for I can't remember exactly what I said to myself or felt on a particular day and it's easy to be less than honest for the sake of the story. Dave actually questioned some of the things I'd written in the first draft, whether I had actually thought through D names on the way to SG's house that day. I told him I didn't know exactly, but that I definitely had done it throughout the week whenever it crossed my mind and that the emotion I felt then—that combined dread and excitement—was very real. Actually, at first I had been tempted to write that I stormed over to her house the minute I thought of the initials, since that seemed to fit the tone and import of the story, but since I know very surely that that isn't true I changed it to read I asked on our very next date, which is true.

Anyway, narrative is the easiest thing to revise. It's a matter of pacing and spacing and trimming sentences, usually, like we saw in the first round of revision. Keeping a blog has been a great aid to my storytelling skill because it gives me the opportunity to present stories every day and try to give them maximum effect without worrying too too much, cause hey: it's just a blog.

The meditation is where the narrative slips away and I get to contemplate aloud on the meaning of things. Sometimes it is asking questions without answers and sometimes answers are proposed. In this particular piece there is almost no meditation going on. It's really only in the last paragraph. Originally I gave this a good four sentences or so and commented on love broadly, but in the first revision it was cut to only one or two sentences right at the end. The trick in most essays is to do the exact right amount of meditating, to lead the reader far enough to almost read your mind but not so far as to disallow them to draw their own conclusions. It's rarely something you can plan to do right; there's no formula for it. It's usually just a matter of tweaking and trying until it feels right.

The third thing, the what-its-really-about, is the hardest to define but probably the most important. It's the bottom line, the real story. When an essay doesn't work, it's usually because I haven't figured out what it's really about and thus the narrative and the meditation are at odds. It's like I'm saying, "2 + 2 = Robinson Crusoe"; I fail to connect, to maintain unity. This aspect of an essay not only dictates what the meditation can be about; it dictates how the narrative should be presented, what elements should be emphasized, what should be dropped entirely. Especially in a very short piece like this, it's essential that every word be accounted for.

So that's it: that's what is going through my mind as I reread and revise. Generally. At this time. My concept of craft and genre and style changes as time goes on.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

It has been so many years since I wrote ANYTHING that reading that alternatingly caused me anxiety and regret. I've lost my vocabulary.