Revising is my nemesis. It is the bane of my existence. It is the friend I never invite over because he will never leave. Draw the curtains, turn off the lights, and don’t answer the phone. Nobody’s home.
When will I stop revising? When I’m done.
But how will I know when I’m done?
Honestly, that’s the common critique of revising. It can go on forever. I always think of the man in Camus’ The Plague who has reams and reams of paper in his house, all of them filled with endless versions of his novel’s opening line.
I know that revising makes things better (for the most part), but my real fear is that I’ll end up destroying whatever good it was that I had in the first place. My writing is so organic (what follows is determined by what came before, and if what came before is changed, then how can what follows follow?) that I feel any little shift may destroy the skeleton of the whole.
And yet, I’ve tried small scale revision — changing lines, adjusting words, adding and/or deleting scenes. Each revision improves the book(s), but it doesn’t solve the larger problem: Namely, that there are some sections, some entire chapters, that don’t work.
But I can’t just cut them, because the details in those sections are integral to the plot. So far, my response has been to dance around these problem areas, hoping that if I redress their surroundings then the problem will disappear.
This has not worked.
So now I’m trying something I’ve been loathe to do. Taking Tracy Jo’s advice, I’m rewriting the problem areas without looking at the original version. And, because it was her advice to begin with, and because my first novel is the one I have the most problems with (though I’m still in love with the idea), and because it’s her favorite of my novels, I’m rewriting the opening chapters of GOD’S TEETH. The original opening you can find here.
I’m including the first 250 words (okay, 262) since that’s about a page of text, and also what The Authoress uses in her various agent-oriented contests. The question: Would you read on?
Darren stood to the side of the wagon’s makeshift stage and watched his master Mikal call forth a ghost between his outstretched hands. The ghost was nothing more than a concentration of the air’s moisture, a creation that in any other context would be called fog, but this fog was shaped into the face of a man.
A man in the crowd cried out in shock. “Father?”
The floating head nodded, then began to speak in a slow, stentorian voice that Darren thought was needlessly ghostly. The voice echoed. It reverberated. It faded in and out as it told facts about both the father and his son, a farmer in small town of Settler’s Dale. For the big finale, the ghost revealed where he had buried a small crop of coins on the son’s farm, a revelation that conveniently left out the fact that Darren had buried the coins there the night before at Mikal’s direction. The information about the farmer and his dead father had been gathered a few days before by Anton, a guard for Gatrindor’s Panoply of Wonders who also served as a location scout for the carnival. The only thing about the performance that was real was the substance of the ghost itself, a truly magical manipulation of the air, but a trick that Darren had seen so many times he had lost his sense of wonder. The only tension in the show for Darren was wondering whether or not the front rows of the audience would notice the stench of alcohol that wafted from Mikal in waves.
Well, would you? (Read on.)