The work of heavy revision continues apace. The first thing I’ve done is to boil down all my various plans, notes, scrag-ends of leftover dialogue or ideas cut as I’ve gone along, throw most of it away and keep anything that looked like it might still be useful, combined it with recommendations and observations from my editor and readers, thought about themes, characters, settings, plot points, and etc. that I need to include or further attend to, and boiled it all down into a single document that attempts to present to me in a (roughly) comprehensible form all the stuff I already know I still need to do to this book. There’s quite a lot there.
The heaviest lifting (as is often the case) needs doing at the start. The start is probably the most important part of your book. You need to introduce central characters, something of their past and personality, their relationships with others, you need to lay out something of the nature of the setting, perhaps set the plot rolling, but above all you need to do all this in a way that’s quick, sharp, interesting. Perhaps you need small surprises, little mysteries, setup questions to draw the reader on. Perhaps you need some early action to grab the scruff of the neck. Whatever the method, you need to involve the reader and keep them reading. After all, a shitty ending might leave someone with a sour taste, but a book abandoned after five pages is going to leave an even sourer one.
A lot of different concerns to juggle, then. The front is also likely to be the bit your wrote first, and therefore the bit that’s sloppiest, least confident, and furthest from your final conception of what the book is about and the characters are like. Chances are it’s full of dead ends and asides that no longer work – bits of history that aren’t important, ideas set up that never paid off, unnecessary characters and events that can be safely excised. A lot of this is about cutting. A lot is about replacing the fuzzy with the sharp, the irrelevant with the relevant, about making the whole thing to the point.
So I’ve revised the first two chapters now. The first wasn’t so bad, my conception of the character whose point of view it’s written from hasn’t changed too much during the writing, so it was mainly about cutting and adding in a few mentions of things that will be needed later. Nonetheless the chapter’s gone from 5,500 words to 4,900, and feels a whole lot sweeter, tighter, and more to the point. That was mostly amalgamating and boiling down a few paragraphs of description that did the same thing, cutting one interlude that just wasn’t necessary in any way, and seriously tightening a very long and sloppy conversation. It may well need to be tightened further, but it’s a good start. The rule I try to follow is – if you have your doubts about something, cut. Or at least find a way to do much faster. There’s always a temptation to leave alone, to say that’s good enough. You need to come at it more like a jackhammer than a scalpel at this stage. There’ll be plenty of work for the scalpel later.
The second chapter needed much more fundamental work. The point of view for this one has given me a lot more trouble, and my whole concept for the character had shifted quite a lot during the writing of the book. As a result it needed some proper rewriting, which is something I don’t often do. In essence I cut half the chapter altogether and replaced it with a much tighter, simpler opening, decided to introduce fewer characters and leave some of them until later so the reader has a bit less information flying at them right off. Then I heavily, heavily cut a long and involved sequence of conversation. Hard to believe, looking at it now, that I could have gone over it once and thought, yeah, good enough, because a lot of it seemed very unnecessary. I think I was working too hard to give the point of view character a complex background, rather than just throwing the reader in, letting them work it out from relevant glimpses. Trying to smash a personality into this character through force rather than just allowing one to appear through action and dialogue and subtle interjections of thought and style (as subtle as I get, at least). Anyway, end result, the chapter’s gone from 6,900 words (I shudder) to 4,500, which is a massive cut and will hopefully make this chapter much less of a lumpen blob clogging up my first part. Very important to get this chapter right, and probably a lot still to do looking at this character’s arc as a whole, but I feel good for doing that much. Like cleaning out that hideous cupboard full of old junk that you wince every time you glance at, and seeing all the crap vanish into a skip.