Here at Meadow Cottage the bulbs are bursting into flower and I am relieved by the clocks changing and the advent of British summertime. In the city one is quite often divorced from winter, not so in the country, here winter is hard and I am so glad that soon I won’t have to haul logs in everyday and battle the elements. Of course the ground elder is romping away triffid like and I have so much to do that, with a large garden a meadow and four wooden buildings to maintain, I do sometimes wonder if I have bitten off more than I can chew.
I have almost finished revising a novel I wrote several years ago and referred to before in my blog about twenty–twenty vision. It was my intention to complete this task last year in the downtime between house moves when I was living in rental accommodation. Unfortunately I was so frozen that my core temperature would drop too low to think, so I took to driving to the nearest market town on of Holt and spending several hours in the wonderful little department store warming up. Your brain does not function when your body is that cold, so the project was postponed. I’ve had a couple of periods in temporary homes, one when I first arrived in Norwich from London and both periods seem typified by stasis.
I began what I thought would be a light edit in January and here we are in April and that seems like a long time, especially given that I have been working at this solidly all day every day. I have been out of contact with friends and relentlessly pursuing this goal, I cannot be distracted when mid–novel I have to spend a great deal of time thinking and having clear head space is vital. It can be difficult to explain the process to people who do not write, if it seems lengthy and complex to me, then for those who do not deal with words by the hundred thousand it must be baffling. I also think that in a world where everything appears to happen at break–neck speed, it is very hard to comprehend just how slow the process of writing and/or revising a novel is. A few years ago a friend attempted one of those write a novel in fifty days competitions, good luck with that, I said. Certainly, this light edit, which turned into a complete re–draft, has taken longer than I wanted it to, but then it has been necessary to work my way through the manuscript six times. I have learned a lot about writing in the intervening years and can now put that to good use.
Initially I thought that it would just need bringing up to date, I found my characters where faxing one another – clearly it was written before the advent of email, and malicious communications are a key turning point in the plot. Then I found that the characterisation needed a significant amount of work, some of them lacked depth and this had to be addressed. I didn’t know enough about my characters backgrounds and, as I often tell my students, if you are doubtful about aspects of your character or plot, then this ambiguity has a mysterious way of coming through on the page to your reader. Understanding and conveying motivation in a character is essential for credibility. I also found that I had given undue prominence to minor characters and indeed some of them have been completely excised from the novel. Then the actual narrative has had whole sections stripped way, I was again surprised by how much unnecessary twaddle there was distracting from this taut mystery. Whole scenes have vanished. This is hopefully the final week on this novel and I am adding some scenes, scenes that make sense of my protagonist’s motivation and finally I have to resolve the end. Endings are tricky; they need to wrap up the action in a way that your readers will approve of and without being trite or too sudden. I always think the end, like a good meal, should leave your reader replete and content; neither overfull nor overly hungry and that’s quite hard to pull off. I found some notes that I made when listening to a programme last year on Radio 4, specifically it dealt with film and Hollywood in particular. The panel agreed that emotional resonance was important and that the audience needed to be emotionally satisfied and that within the structure of endings was a sort of catharsis. The plot has to be closed down and explained in a satisfactory way, they cited The Italian Job as having the best and worst ending of all time. I am now closing down the plot in my novel and making it resonate with my readers; that’s the plan anyway, whether I achieve it or not my readers will judge.
I think of this process of re–drafting as a multi–dimensional jigsaw puzzle, which is taxing on the brain and time consuming. Louise Doughty’s ‘A Novel in a Year’ course for The Telegraph is more realistic time scale for writing a novel, for re–drafting I suggest you allow a little over three months.