Monday, August 06, 2007

Too Much Going On

Posted by Lisa

My first chapter wasn't working. When I shared it with my writers' group so many months back, they complimented my setting and said kind words about my main character. But, I can't remember if it was Hannah, Lynne or Amy, who suggested, directly, that my first chapter was busy. Too busy. So I pared it down, or so I thought.

I 've finished a complete draft of this YA novel, and I'm sending it to my writers' group today. But even yesterday, that first chapter still wasn't strong. So I did something desperate: I asked my husband to read it.

I know, I know, that's a risky endeavor. I hear your voices loud and clear. But my marriage is strong. Surely it's strong enough to withstand a critique of ONE chapter. He read it while I puttered in another room.

"It's good," he said, "your writing is solid." But... there was a but in that sentence, and I wanted to hear it. "But," he continued, "there's too much going on. There's three things going on. I think there should be two."

"Thanks," I said. "No problem," he answered. Then he picked up his Blackberry and wandered out of the room.

Bingo. Hello. Well, duh. Light bulb moment.

He was right. I knew it the very second he told me. I edited. I re-read. I repositioned bits and pieces of the story. It's much improved, far from perfect, but it seems to read better; hopefully it intrigues without overwhelming.

The same as you, I keep on learning. I suppose one of my latest lessons is about what makes a good scene. A scene must be long enough, without being lengthy. Enough must happen, without confusing the reader. Sometimes the hardest thing is to cut a scene in two. When you take something out of a scene, you must find somewhere else to put it - never easy. Like a house of cards, you take one away, and the rest of the house starts to tremble. I suppose that is editing. And frankly, that is a lot of work, but painstaking work we must do.


Lisa said...

Thank you for sharing this Lisa. For many of us, the concern is that there's not enough going on. This is a good reminder that we can also have too much happening.

Melissa Amateis said...

It's amazing what we start to notice when we step back from our work. Editing IS painstaking work, but I love it. I love making my words better, I love using the lessons on the writing craft that I've learned. And while it will never be perfect, to watch it transform from what it once was to the "final" product is a joy in itself.

Lisa Marnell said...

Lisa - It is true isn't it - too much of a good thing (our lovely writing) can leave a reader confused - gulp - and that's the last thing we want to do.

Melissa - Thanks for sharing your positive attitude toward editing. Having just finished a major round of editing (3 months worth), my attitude is less than enthusiastic. It's August 6th. I'm not even glancing at my novel until my writer's group discusses it with me on August 20th.

A little time away from editing - that's like jumping in a pool on a hot summer day for me right now!


Larramie said...

Isn't Chapter One the most difficult to write, deciding what to tell and what to hold back? You want to capture the reader's interest, while not overwhelming her/him. I've heard that if you scatter "breadcrumbs" throughout the first chapter, almost everyone will follow to The End.

Enjoy your "R&R," Lisa.

mohanley5 said...


House of cards...EXACTLY! I'm there now...holding my breath and hoping to avoid a cave in!
Best wishes!

Lisa Marnell said...

Mo - Best wishes right back at you!