Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Seeing the Trees


Forest Landscape II,
Emily Carr,
oil on paper, c. 1935.

When I first read Donald Maass's revision advice, from, I think, Writing the Breakout Novel, to print out your manuscript and heave it on the floor, I admit I was horrified.

My floor, you see. I might never find it all again.

But his revision recommendation in terms of random pages is, as usual, excellent.

An MS page seen in isolation, separate from the splendid panorama of the forest, may reveal a lot of deadwood, racoon squat, poison ivy and forest litter.

Awkward constructions, unintentional repetitions, verb disagreement, abandoned themes.

Stuff you might have ignored because your eyes were on the forest, not the trees.

This method, in turn, allows one to concentrate on another excellent piece of advice (probably also from Maass) -- to make sure each and every page contains something special for the reader: an insight, a line of exquisite description, witty or illuminating dialogue, a bit of shock 'n awe, whatever -- to carry them forward, to sustain their interest in the unfolding tale.

Give them flowers, unusual plants, an inukshuk, wolf's bane, creeping sounds in the undergrowth, pug marks, a blaze slashed, runes in the bark.

No dull deadfalls to make them go back and take another trail.

I still shudder at the idea of a snow storm of pages in wheee! abandon, but I do print out haphazard single pages and try to make them better.

32 comments:

StarvingWriteNow said...

I've heard a lot about this particular book by Maass. I'm going to check it out. Thanks!

Carla said...

I don't much fancy the snowstorm approach either :-) Your random-page method sounds very sensible. I tend to dip randomly into the Word file, which probably has much the same effect.

Jaye Wells said...

I don't have the stomach for the manuscript toss either. I just edit in reverse order, starting with the last page.

BernardL said...

Heck of an idea, but I'd probably be dead before I finished the edit. :)

Bernita said...

It's one I find it useful to dip into from time to time, Starving.Eventually, I figure out what he's getting at.

The same principle, by and large, Carla.
For me, words look different in print than on screen, which is why I like to print out here and there.

I've never tired that method, Jaye. Hmmm.Sounds like a good one.

Some writers may not need to go to the trouble of this sort of revision, Bernard.

Robyn said...

That is a great and terrifying idea. I like the random page edit much better.

Charles Gramlich said...

That's good advice about selecting a random page. I have Maas's book but have not read it yet. Sounds like I better get started.

writtenwyrdd said...

I like the idea of every page having something to recommend it. It seems intuitive, but probably isn't, that one look for that factor during the editing phase.

I couldn't toss a manuscript upon the floor like that, though. Ack. I'd never finish the edit.

Dave F. said...

Some days, I take the text of a story and highlight everything to do with one particular character or one theme or one plot twist. Then I read through the story to see if it works (it usually doesn't).
Some days, I take each chapter and create a table of what is important for the reader to know about each character or the situation they are in. This looks like a large table of rows and columns when it is complete. I find certain characters do awful, goofy things. I found one character was so bland and blank he wasn't worthy of being a protagonist.

I think Maass wants the author to read for color and vibrancy. And I think it is great advice to make sure each and every page contains something special for the reader...

Good post.

Bernita said...

Robyn, made me blench.

The book contains a lot of solid stuff, Charles.

Yes, Written, I too feel that's the real gem. The other stuff we might catch normally in formula edit.

Bernita said...

Those all sound like really excellent techniques for structure, Dave. Thank you.

spyscribbler said...

Wow, I don't remember that suggestion! Sounds very freeing.

But the mess! I can hardly keep up with the housework as it is! Figures a man would suggest that; he probably doesn't do half the housework. (Okay, kidding. Am I snarky today or what?)

Sophie Kinsella's breakout book, Can You Keep A Secret?, is said to have been gone through, page by page, to make sure every page was interesting so it would make the bestseller lists. It worked. It's a far better novel than anything else she wrote, although I couldn't get into her Shopaholic series.

Travis Erwin said...

Make every word sentence and paragrpah count.

You are right that is not always easy to do especially the first time through when you are jsut trying to get the story down. This is where the importance of rewrites coems in.

Bernita said...

"But the mess! I can hardly keep up with the housework as it is! Figures a man would suggest that; he probably doesn't do half the housework."

Yanno, Natasha, you may be on to something there. And the reason why I gibbered at the idea, until I found an alternative means of reproducing it.

Travis, what is being gotten at, is, I think, something more than just tight and tidy sentences.
Pages may be neat and perfect - and dull.
I think the advice means to try to put spark on every page.

Bernita said...

To which I should add, Travis, something you seem to have no trouble providing!

Vesper said...

How interesting, Bernita. Thank you! I was considering buying this book - now I'll do it.

"to make sure each and every page contains something special for the reader" - this is something to remember!

SzélsőFa said...

Random editing sounds reasonable. When you re-read your own words you can get carried away and fail to notice faults. Nice idea,I like it.

Bernita said...

I hope you will find it a valuable reference, Vesper.

Pages in isolation supply a different focus, Szelsofa.

Gabriele C. said...

Since I write out of order, I better edit in order, or the story may meander, lost in cool details.

Billy said...

What a great idea from Mr. Maas. I think we have all encountered the problem of trying to proofread, only to find that our eyes speed up with each turn of the page. I once tried proofing a novel backwards. But this--not a bad idea at all.

Bernita said...

Best way to check for structural flow, Gabriele!

"to find that our eyes speed up with each turn of the page."
Right, Billy, this method might interrupt that tendency.

Steve Malley said...

Great post, Bernita!!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I do this with things I've not visited or revised for awhile. Pull up a file, run the tab down and stop at a miscellaneous page. Sometimes it's disappointing, sometimes I get sucked into the story all over again.

Oh yeah, the old "surprise on every page" trick. Damn. Now I gotta go through the ms AGAIN!!

raine said...

I've never read Maass. Interesting. And I love the thought of having something special on every single page.

But I like the idea of isolating pages for random review, or editing from the end, much better than watching it take flight. I think my heart skipped a beat at that...
Thanks for the suggestion!

Bernita said...

Steve, thank you!

~grins at SS~

A single page is much more...um...sedate, Raine.

Nicole Kelly said...

I actually did this with my first novel, and it was a really good thing. Not only was I able to add tons of tension, I found more copy edits than I'd care to mention.

But,just for full disclosure, I about wept when I started trying to pick the manuscript up off my floor. One, I paper cut the living heck out of myself. Two, I realized the amount of work I had ahead of me for my already "finished" book.

Julie said...

....Epimetheus, Bernita?

Bernita said...

Ah, user endorsement. Thank you,Nicole.

Prometheus, Julie.

LadyBronco said...

'Tis an intriguing idea, to be sure, but I have to admit - I would not be able to do it.

My OCD would kick into overdrive and I would have to have every page perfectly stacked back in perfect order before I hyperventilated.

Chumplet said...

Good advice about random pages. And your painting selection today is beautiful! Emily Carr should have been an official member of the Group of Seven, then it would be the Group of Eight.

When I finish a painting, I look at it through a mirror or upside down. It helps pick out the wobbly bits.

Church Lady said...

I'm finally in! (please don't ask)

Great advice. I don't think it's necessary to toss the ms onto the floor, but random page checks on the computer work well also.

There was a site recommended by agent Janet Reid a while back called Page69. Or something like that. The owners of this site review novels based on the randomness of what occurs on page 69. They believe, like Maass, something to entice the reader should be found on every page.

Love this post!!

Bernita said...

While I'm not OCD, Lady B, I agree, it just seems so - messy!

Thank you, Sandra.
"...I look at it through a mirror or upside down."
Interesting how the arts overlap!

Dubious in Dubai. Poor Chris!
Thank you.
Think I should try to find that site - after I check my page 69. Their approach sounds interesting.