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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Courage to Revise


I’m occasionally surprised to find that there are a few people out there who read my blog once in a while.  I’m not being sarcastic or whiny, just stating a fact.  I figure most traffic on my blog consists of family members or friends, and once in a while some random person who might stumble across it by accident while Googling writing tips, Sandra Bullock, or maybe is looking for outlet websites selling discounted designer clothing.  It could happen.  Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when a friend’s husband mentioned a blog post of mine, and gave me a great idea for a way to improve something I’d written.
I was thrilled, actually.  Why?  Because I want, and desperately need, input, suggestions, tips, thoughts, intuitions, opinions, or even statements of extreme disgust regarding my creative writing attempts.  I want this because I will never be able to improve without learning to stand back and objectively critique what I write. 
Back in February of 2014, I’d written a post about a middle grade (though now I’m thinking it’s more of a YA, or young adult) novel that I’m writing, about something rather creepy.  I included my first chapter.  No comments were posted on my blog, so I suppose I thought no one had seen it.  Happily, last month I learned that wasn’t true, and my friend’s husband, Lars, made a great suggestion about a scene where my protagonist, a young grave robber named Cap, touches the face of a young girl he’s just helped dig up from her coffin.  At his touch, she seems to revive and opens her eyes.
Lars said that when reading this passage, he’d expected there to be a “beat,” or a moment or two after Cap touches the girl’s face, when nothing seems to happen and Cap is then convinced he’d imagined things, before the girl actually does open her eyes.  Whoa, hold the phone!  That had never crossed my mind, but as soon as he said it, I thought it was a fantastic suggestion and decided to do a little re-writing. 
I’ll admit that revising is hard.  It truly is for me.  I recently read some writing tips from a well-known and respected author, sadly I can’t remember who right now, whose said: “Have the courage to revise.”  It does take courage.  It takes courage to decide that you can, in fact, make your writing better, but that takes humility and a willingness to listen to others who aren’t so emotionally “wrapped up” in the story as you, the creator of it, happen to be.  It takes courage to listen to those others who can take that proverbial step back and tell you when your writing…stinks.  There, I said it.
So, thank you Lars, for making a great suggestion!  I like adding a few moments of waiting, when Cap is convinced nothing really happened.  I think it adds a bit of tension to the scene, and allows for Cap to have the more startled response (scream) at the end of the scene.  His scream, of course, attracts attention and keeps the momentum of the story moving forward.  So, here they are:  the following paragraphs include my original excerpt from chapter one of “The Digger,” and after that is my revised excerpt, based on Lars’ recommendation.  Hope you like it, but if you don’t, feel free to tell me.  Please.  J

Original:
She was serene as before, eerily beautiful in the dim moonlight.  Why can’t you be sleeping? Cap thought, wishing it with all his heart.  Then, without thinking, he reached down to touch her soft cheek.  As he did so, a brief sensation of warmth shot up his finger and traveled up his arm.  His eyes widened in shock.  Her flesh was warm?  Cap gasped and pulled his hand away.  Jessamyn’s eyelids seemed to flutter, a slight movement, no greater than the merest flicker, so slight that Cap thought he must have dreamed it.  Then, nothing.
Gaping, trembling, hardly daring to breathe, Cap reached down again and touched the girl’s soft cheek, then placed his palm on her forehead.  And then, something happened that he never expected. 
She opened her eyes.

Revised Version:
Why can’t you be sleeping? Cap thought, wishing it with his heart.  Without thinking, he reached down to touch her cheek.  As he did so, a sensation of warmth shot through him, moving from his fingers and up his arm.  His eyes widened in shock.  Her flesh should be cold!  Cap gasped and pulled his hand away.  He swore he saw Jessamyn’s eyelids flutter.  It was a slight movement, no greater than a flicker.  Cap thought he must have dreamed it.  He stared.
Nothing.
            Gaping, trembling, hardly daring to breathe, Cap reached down again and touched the girl’s soft cheek, then placed his palm on her forehead.  
She was still.  So, so still.  A girl carved in stone.  Moments passed.  Leaves skittered in the wind.  Cap waited, eyes wide.  His heart sped up.  He counted the beats.  Ten.  Fifteen.  Thirty-two.  His heart slowed.
Finally, he let his hand fall away.
The girl was dead.  He was a fool.
            He sat back on his heels and reached down to cover her face.  And then he screamed.
She opened her eyes.