Friday, April 02, 2010

How To Revise a Novel: Step #3

Back to thinking about revising...
Step #1 was LOOK AT YOUR WORK OBJECTIVELY.
Step #2 was SEE THE BIG PICTURE.
And now for Step #3:
WRITE UNTIL IT'S TRUE.

The other day, I was doing my Revising with Power and Purpose presentation for some seventh graders, and when I spoke about needing to write until it's true, a student asked if you have to worry about that when you're writing fiction. It was the perfect question because I was able to explain exactly what I mean by "writing until it's true." The story needs to feel 100% true, even when you've made the whole thing up. Especially when you've made the whole thing up. It needs to be 100% believable, logical, and emotionally authentic. Otherwise, your readers will be bumped out of the story.

Imagine you are reading Harry Potter, and you get to the scene when Hagrid first takes Harry away from the Dursleys to bring him to Hogwarts. If Harry had a tearful goodbye with Dudley, told him he would miss him, and promised to write, you would be completely bumped out of the story. You wouldn't believe a word of it. You're not bumped out by the magic, or the idea of Hogwarts; you're bumped out by Harry acting in a non-authentic way for his character in his particular story.

I put all my work through the "Telling-your-best-friend-the-story-over-coffee" trick. You imagine that you are telling your best friend this very true story. Then you imagine the questions your friend would ask you along the way. With Julia's Kitchen, one of the questions my editor asked me was, "Wouldn't a school social worker get involved?" The answer to that question was, "Yes, but I didn't want to write about that." Guess what? I had to write about that in order to make the story believable. Another question was, "Wouldn't Marlee get annoyed with all of Cara's grieving after a while?" A perfectly good question. After all, these girls are only 11 years old. I knew the answer was yes, but again, I didn't want to write that. I wanted Marlee to be the perfect best friend. Cara had enough bad stuff to deal with. Right? Wrong! To make the story believable and true, I had to write a scene with Marlee getting fed up. Marlee had to act like a real 11-year-old.

Confession: I cried my eyes out when I wrote that scene. And plenty of readers have told me they cried when reading it. I can't imagine the book without the fight between Cara and Marlee. The truth is hard to write, but it's worth it.

So don't cut corners here. Make sure your novel is factually accurate, emotionally truthful, and filled with authentic characters. You want your readers to be carried away by the story. You never want them realizing there's an author behind it all, making this stuff up. Keep the "Wizard" behind the curtain. Don't let your readers peek.

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