Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Editing my new story

If you've been reading this blog, you know that I am happily writing again. I have finished a very very messy first draft of a story, and I need to figure out how to go back and revise it. And this story will need re-visioning in the truest sense of the word. As I said, it's a mess. But it's a mess I've created, and that makes me happy.

Questions--asked and answered--that will help me revise

1. What is this story about? On a plot level, it's about a male reporter who helps a widow grieve by rewriting her husband's obit. The husand's parents wrote the one that ran in the paper, and it was factually accurate, but not emotionally accurate. She wants a document that she can show their unborn daughter that better captures her husband as the 3-dimensional person he was.

2. Whose point of view is it in? Right now it is told mostly from the point of view of the male reporter. I jumped into the widow's point of view when he starts to interview her about her husband. At the time, I was thinking I was doing this just to ease the writing of those parts. But I'm wondering now if maybe the story should have both points of view in it. I think that's something I may hold off on exploring though until a third draft if the POV doesn't seem to be working.

3. What is the emotional story? I think the story is about this reporter who is a bit dejected; he just went through a divorce and is questioning his rather spur of the moment move to the island of Nantucket to be a newspaper reporter. He thought he would like the work more, that it would matter more. But it feels like a bit of a grind, like he's just reporting on these wealthy people and their wealthy people problems.

4. What unexpected element has come up as you're writing? When I was writing in the POV of the widow, she went down this road about how the husband couldn't really stand up to his wealthy parents, that they gave the son money--even a house in Hyannis--and that he felt beholden to them because of it. I think the couple fought over this, with her feeling like she'd rather be less wealthy and not so much under their thumb. She wonders if he would've regretted his weakness in this area if he had lived longer.

5. What are you going to do with this element? As I'm typing this, I'm realizing that maybe talking with the widow about her seemingly perfect husband, with all his money and his beautiful wife and baby-to-be, makes the reporter feel worse about himself, makes him question even more what the hell he's doing with his life.

But then the widow asks about him, how he ended up on the island. He tells about how he just picked up and left after his wife left him, that he came here knowing no one, and having never worked at a newspaper before. She admires him, and talks about how that's something her husband never would've done, moved away from his parents, and that whole element of his parents' control comes out. It makes the reporter feel a little better to know that even people who look like they have it all figured out are just slogging their way through life, too. And now, maybe when he asks himself what the hell he's doing there, instead of hearing his ex-wife's shrill questions about why he would move to an island in the middle of nowhere, he'd hear this widow's amazement at his bravery.

And, as the widow talks more and more about this, she realizes that if she stays in their house, she'll be in the same boat. So by the end she is contemplating moving back to the little, artsy town in Rhode Island that she lived in before she met her husband.

6. How does it end? She falls asleep peacefully in his office as he types up the obit, feeling truly useful--because of him she'll have an obit that reflects who her husband truly was, and because in helping this woman create it, he also helped her realize that she didn't want to stay in the controlled situation she was in.


The end, among other areas, still doesn't feel quite right. Something is off regarding the reporter and his emotional development/arch. But I think I need to get into draft #2 to figure out what it is. Or maybe I'll post an interview with the reporter to get a better sense of who he is.

And now a question for you, readers: I'd like to know something about how you revise, on a very practical level. Do you just into the Word document you've already been working in? Do you open a fresh document?

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bostonerin said...

A quick observation about your post: perhaps the end feels off because what you've written (at least here) shows more growth for the widow than the reporter. If he's the POV character, he may need more than what you've outlined.

As for my revision process, it can vary. For a story, I print out the whole piece and edit by hand first, then enter the changes, then print and repeat. It gives me more distance. For a novel, I'll print it when I've finished an entire draft. (although the revision I'm working on it so extensive, I opened a new word doc and started over)

Writer Bug said...

Hi Erin,
Thanks for that great observation. I guess the question now is whether I need to change the POV character to the woman, or whether there is something to the reporter that I just don't get yet.

oh said...

Just dropping in because I'm in the same boat, but not with a book - it's an essay. One that has gone very long, somehow, from 2 pages to 5.

I have it in Word. To revise, I will go into the same file. I will draw a line at the top of the file, you know, where the text begins.

Then I will begin writing ABOVE that line, maybe going below it, into my original, to snag a sentence or paragraph that I like. Then I'll head to the top of the document where I'm working on the "new" version.
Yes, it involves some back and forth but it's within the same document. And it also allows for what I call "rewriting from memory" the work that I had already done.

ANd I don't lose that original work; it's all right there, below the line I drew.

The new essay, above the line, will be much shorter, tighter, better. And anything I need, if I need it, will be there below the line.

And when I'm done, I delete everything below the line (or, if I'm thinking I might need it - why? - I save it, finally, as a separate doc.

Sound complicated? Nah. It's a snap. Have fun!!!!

Writer Bug said...

OH--I like your process idea. Thanks! I'm going to try that next time.

DJPare said...

I agree with Erin. Is the end going to be about a resolution with the widow or the reporter? If the reporter, then more about him - why did his wife really leave him?

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