Sunday, January 11, 2009

Those professional writer people seem to know what they're talking about.

Huh. Who would have thought?

I read an article on pacing by Steve Almond in Writer's Digest earlier today. He mentions a famous piece of literary advice by Anton Chekhov, that you should cut the first three pages of any initial draft. Almond adds that if you're not sure whether or not you should really do that, consider questions like, "Is your protagonist alone for these pages?" or "Is he in bed or in a bathtub?"

Now, the scene I'd especially been thinking about cutting is not actually in the first three pages. The prologue comes first. I had some strong ideas behind the prologue and had to get a lot of information out very quickly in order for my story to make sense, and to get on with said story. So the scene I'd been wanting to cut? First chapter I originally wrote after the prologue. Three pages of it. Of the protagonist alone, starting out in bed, in fact. There are a couple things in those pages I'll save, add somewhere else. But as a whole, they're getting the axe.

Oh, but don't worry. There are other scenes I'm adding. The article ends with exercises. Part of the last one reads, "First: Cut every single word that isn't absolutely necessary until you've cut at least half the story. Second: Using this shorter draft, identify the most dramatic moments and rewrite them, intentionally slowing the pace."
Because of the rest of the article, I think what he means by "slowing the pace" is to slow the actual amount of time covered, the chronological pacing, not to slow the "rate of revelations."

I will not be following this advice, at least not just yet, not consciously. (Well hey, Almond isn't Chekhov.) Not only is it brutal, but my novel's pretty short to begin with, and there aren't all that many unnecessary scenes like those first three pages. I under-write. I'm closer to the problem of pacing he mentions earlier, "Covering too much ground. Otherwise known as: That's not a story, it's an outline." Every minute I write I consciously fight that. That whole stupid "show, don't tell" thing. "Okay, that's the scene, now describe the scene, what happens, what do they say?" Nonetheless, consciously doing the exercise or not, I'm sure as I revise there is much I will cut, and even before I had read the article I'd started adding scenes, knowing that such and such also happens to her when she's young, consciously making myself write about it instead of just summarizing it for the reader. That's not quite the same thing as picking dramatic moments and rewriting them, but it's a good first step for an under-writer (I don't know if it's actually spelled with a hyphen, but I am NOT an underwriter) -- picking dramatic moments in what had been backstory and bringing it into the actual story. Yep. Slow the pace. Only without changing certain people's opinions that it's a page-turner. Add depth without actually, well, slowing the pace. Sounds like a good thing to do in a first revision.

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