Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Revisions, Day 3-ish

I have begun to revise the latest draft of Killing Hamlet, and I think that—because I did so much pre-planning before starting the draft—the revisions will be pretty straightforward and, mercifully, quick. I already have the story down, and the characters are pretty solid and there aren’t any big issues I need to figure out to make the plot work. It all seems to be secure structurally and so I’m just going to be working on balance and language, I think.

The main thing I see so far is that I used a lot of what I’m calling “approximate language” in this draft, where I wrote something like what I mean, but in an imprecise manner. So I’m revising for precision, to get the exact meaning down on the page. This entails a lot of rephrasing and reordering of sentences and phrases, because my drafts sometimes resemble unorganized sock drawers, where all of the items are there together, but not quite matched up the way you might like. This is just dealing with the mechanics of language and grammar, so it’s not hard work and the results are immediate and pleasing.

Another task is to make the beginning match the ending in terms of voice (my first chapters are always written in a very formal language that strikes me as too stiff when I get to the revisions stage and I have to fight to loosen it up a bit). The first draft of the first chapter almost always makes me cross and it’s some work to get through it. I have to take a couple of whacks at it before it stops being in Martian and reverts to English prose.

Other things to do include working in images that became important later on (images that I only discovered while I was writing the draft, making the second half of the book a richer narrative than the first half until I pull these images back through the story to the beginning); making sure that the characters are the same people all the way through (because sometimes I only figure out who a character really is during his death scene so I have to make sure that everything leading up to that moment will actually match that moment); cutting out dead-end ideas and misfired Chekhovian guns, cutting out repetition and repetition; putting in or strengthening foreshadowing; and adding repetition and repetition of symbols and ideas.

So while I am changing almost every single sentence (Mighty Reader is taken aback by the amount of red ink on my pages in what I tell her is a “light edit”), it’s generally pleasant work having to do with storytelling and aesthetics. There are two minor scenes—or possibly just they are additions to extant scenes—that I’d like to work into the first third of the book somewhere, but other than that I don’t see myself making any structural changes to the narrative. Which puts me, if I’m right about all of this, on track to send the new version off to my agent by the end of the month. Which would be totally awesome, as the kids say.

12 comments:

  1. Oh, man. I hate sorting socks.

    Isn't red ink all over a page a supremely satisfying feeling?

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  2. Well, it feels like progress, at least. I've forgotten how I put the first act of the story together, so it's an interesting experience right now because I'm not overly-familiar with the narrative. I think I've got more critical distance with this draft than I have ever had with this book. Hopefully that means that all the red ink I'm spilling is making the book better and not just different, if you know what I mean.

    Hey, you're in revisionland yourself, right? How's that going?

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  3. It's going okay. I've got some plot issues worked out and I've figured out a great spoiler character. I'm kind of excited about her. Hey got any parallels for Hamlet and a girly girl college student?

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  4. Well, you know there are only two women in "Hamlet": Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. Ophelia is sort of a 16th-century girly girl, maybe. She's a daddy's girl with no experience with men or love. Some of the lines S gave her once she's mad are priceless. None of this helps you.

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  5. no not really. My college girl has been given the assignment to parallel herself with Hamlet. She's kind of stumped. I thought if anyone knew Hamlet it was you.

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  6. Oh, you mean parallels between your character and the Hamlet character. I misunderstood. Is your college girl impulsive when she's not dithering? 'Cause that's Hamlet. Or is she maybe moping around to spite her parents? 'Cause that's Hamlet, too. Though people would likely not see those things about themselves. Hamlet's the smartest person in the castle; maybe your character will think that's true of herself?

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  7. heehee. not character. daughter. in college. humanities class (that she hates--she's all about science), impulsive could be her, moping is possible. I was thinking something along the lines of being all stressed out and indecisive.

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  8. Well, there's also a possible scientific method angle to Hamlet: he spends a lot of the play gathering evidence to determine if his uncle actually did murder his father. The "play within a play" is an experiment Hamlet sets up to test his theory in that regard. In fact, one of the themes running all through the play is the question of if you can believe the evidence of your own eyes.

    There's a Hamlet angle to everything.

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  9. You go, Scott! I hate the step of replacing the approximate language with more precise language. It always feels like I'm forcing my brain to work harder suddenly. The payoff is nice at the end, though.

    I hope you leave at least one unfired gun.

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  10. Big D: Yeah, having to actually decide precisely what I mean is a real drag. Being vague is safer.

    I'm leaving a couple of loaded weapons lying around at the end. Sometimes things are just for poetry, not for plot.

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  11. Stay vague. It will help the rest of us feel less inadequate in the glow of your prose.

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  12. Thanks so much for your feedback today. She loved the science angle. I've never thought of it in those terms, but it makes perfect sense once you point it out. I guess now I really must bow before his lordship. I have seriously got to go back and read Hamlet again. It's been a while, but this discussion has whet my appetite for it. It'll be good so then I'll be prepared to read Killing Hamlet.

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