Thursday night I was part of a group of UCF students who had dinner with novelist Susan Henderson after she read from and discussed her book Up From the Blue. I have come to value opportunities like this immensely since most of my professors do not write novels. While novels have much in common with shorter works or with creative nonfiction, there are also some problems unique to the genre. It’s wonderful to be able to pick the brain of someone who writes on the same scope as I do.
My biggest questions are about revisions. Henderson had some great ideas for keeping the work fresh while revising. She told me never to enter the work from the same place twice. In other words, I don’t need to feel like I have to start at the beginning every time I take a pass at revisions. Instead, I should choose one element of the story, a character or an important object for example, and follow it through the entire work, examining each passage where that element shows up. This will give me a chance to see the various arcs within the whole and discover what might be missing or overdone in a new way. It can also lead to discovering important symbols or events that I may have overlooked in my other readings.
Henderson also suggested that I take the pages or chapters of the book and tack them on the wall so I can visually see the balance in terms of page numbers. This is similar to my storyboarding activity, but much more time-efficient. I think it could also work in tandem with the other method. Tacking up all the passages with a character or a particular setting will help me see the balance through the whole book. I am envisioning a sort of bar graph of pages where I tack up passages from Sarah’s story in separate lines according to the elements they contain: a line of pages about her experiences with religion, a line for interactions with the art community, for questions about sex, for specific friendships…
I feel like revisions are starting to make sense. What do you think? If you write novels, or even if you don’t but find yourself plugging in to this idea, what methods would you try for revising? I’d love to hear your ideas in a comment.
If you’re interested in reading Up From the Blue, you can check it out here: