June 14, 2011

Writer Rites: On the Strength of Revision

Oddly enough, A.F. and I realized the other day that we don't talk a lot about writing in the Wonderland treehouse. Odd, because we both are published authors, odder still, because we started this blog for our writing group, with the idea that we'd talk about the books we were reading in YA, and what we were working with in our personal writing. So, I've decided to write a bit about writing - not in the And Now I Shall Give You Advice sort of way that a lot of published authors seem comfortable with, but more in a pedestrian, this-is-what-we've-encountered sort of way. Hope you find it helpful or provoking of thought for your own writing or teaching of writing.

You love Harry Potter, but you kind of have ISSUES with how the last few books went. They were thicker, sure, but that didn't mean that there was just more story to love. In some ways, there was just more... stuff. You merely have to say "Harry Potter and the Long Camping Trip" and certain people in my writing group crack up. It's not that we think we're More Awesomer Fabulouso writers than JK Rowling, but we simply had front seats to a thing we don't yet understand -- kind of the same thing, in adult fiction parlance, which happened to Charlaine Harris when her vampire novels made the leap to HBO's Trueblood -- Fame = a severe loss of editing. As with the vampire series, a lot of readers felt like the carefully constructed and well-loved fictional community Rowling created turned chaotic, after her books took off.

We can't imagine it happening to us -- mainly because none of us envision being the next JK. But thinking about it, there have to be some books which have become hugely famous which have retained their integrity even so. The Percy Jackson novels (never mind the film) remained constant. The Twilight books arguably retained their same quality pre-and-post movie. (And you may take that exactly as you will.) Clearly it IS possible... but the trick to still writing well years from now when fame takes you is to learn to really do your work well now.

Review, revamp, revisit, reconstruct, revive, revise -- there's a lot you can do with a second look at a piece of work. The thing I'm seeing right now as I advise people as they rewrite is to see to the emotional continuity of their story. Eventually we all figure out that stories need a beginning, middle, and end, but character emotions, too, have to go through the same progression to make them believable. Emotions change and evolve in changes, and it helps out a great deal if the character's emotional motivation changes and evolves along with the storyline. What does your character want? Do they want that same thing, all the way through the story? Did you remember that they wanted anything? It's sometimes really hard to remember to keep that focus!

Our writing group talks a lot about how to avoid things -- and it's nice to know that someone else's head is in the same space, albeit usually from the film perspective. This week The Meddler, aka screenwriter Matt Bird, is revising the Potter books. And so far he's cutting, cutting, cutting, to make the narrative flow tighter, and the pacing of the action faster.

Also, a fun one on writing this week is at Yat Yee's blog - with a minor spoiler alert on Kung Fu Panda II, she explores how to create a story with such charm and verve that readers can overlook any flaws she might leave. A good question.

Happy Writing Week.


Yat-Yee said...

Heh. You give me too much credit. I asked questions because I want to know what others think. So come one come all and tell me what you think!

I am going over to check out the revised HP. I stopped after Book 3 but my daughter, Rowling's target audience, read everything twice and insists the later books are just as awesome as the earlier ones. So what does that say?

Sarah Stevenson said...

Thanks, Tanita, for getting the ball rolling again on talking about writing. My main problem is, every time I think about blogging about writing, I come back to the same annoying voice that says "what do *I* know??" Or "what can I say that hasn't already been said better by someone else?" I need to get over that...for some reason that's not usually a problem with my fiction writing, but it sure is with my blogging.

Yat-Yee, interesting that your daughter was just as enthused about the later HP books. I definitely enjoyed them, but I think I would have enjoyed them more if they'd had a similar pacing to the first three (or even four--Goblet of Fire, albeit LOOONG, moved quickly).

tanita✿davis said...

Yat Yee, the questions are worth pursuing!!

Yat-Yee said...

Indeed they are, Tanita. And I have been pondering these past few days (while hiking and hot-springing in the mountains.)

Sarah: For my daughter, I think, it's because she likes the overall story and all the imaginative details so much that she really doesn't care too much about whether the writing is tight or pacing is good. She's just taking it all in as it's written. And I think this ties into the thread I'm on with Tanita right now, about when is a reader willing to be so fully trusting that very few things matter. angri

Anonymous said...

When I see this thing where writers suddenly become less well-edited, I find it terrifying. I mean, I count on an editor to tell me The Truth, especially the stuff I don't want to know about. Because I'd rather she was telling me than some reviewer or letter-writer.

Coincidentally, I just reread HP #6 and #7 as part of our lead-up to the final movie (we're taking Lucas to his first-ever midnight movie for it--I am absurdly excited about this). I enjoyed rereading the sixth book a lot, but the seventh book... the editing issues really stood out on the reread.

Saints and Spinners said...

I followed the HP revision link, and learned something new-- the term "play fair mystery," whereby the clues are laid out for the reader, but the reader may not put them all together until the end of the story. I have a low tolerance for "Had I but known" mysteries... in literature and in life! I don't get much of a say in the latter, though.

Off-topic question: Are you venturing north this summer, AF?