A few weeks ago, after finishing another draft of my work in progress, I found myself once more at the edge of the forest, resisting the next leg of a seemingly unending journey, unsure of what kinds of confidence-gobbling monsters were waiting for me. Sometimes the landscape of revision smells too strongly of fear.
But after spending last weekend with six like-minded Bay Area writers at a novel revision retreat workshop led by Darcy Pattison, I am now looking forward to the terrain.
I have to admit that I went into the workshop with my doubts—would I really hear anything new? I was ready to clench my jaw and roll my eyes when asked for the twelve-hundredth time; what does your character want? What stands in her way? What does she try and fail and try and fail and try and fail to do to get what she wants? (Isn’t it obvious? She wants…you know, love, happiness, the same thing we all want. Life gets in the way. Right?)
But Darcy didn’t ask these questions. Instead, she led us through a systematic and uncompromising process—a series of steps I’d never taken. An unexpected revision landscape, new and different from any I had walked before.
She wisely started out telling us what to expect in the learning curve department, describing the stages of learning as: unconscious incompetence (you don’t know and you don't know you don’t know) conscious incompetence (you know you don’t know) conscious competence (you know and you know you know) and then the ultimate goal which is unconscious competence (you know but you don’t know that you know because the skills and knowledge are automatic and at work in your subconscious.)
Well. That’s different. And hearing it, we all knew it was true.
The next eye-opening step was to analyze our shrunken manuscripts—we had all followed directions and arrived with our 250+ page novels shrunken down to 30 pages through reducing the type face and in some cases, dividing it into two columns per page. From there we went to work with brightly colored markers tracking narrative arc, macro and micro plotting, emotional arc over the entire story and by scene, and dialogue. Standing back and taking in this map of our stories revealed some surprising unconscious incompetence—in other words, the places that needed work. Now we knew what we didn’t know. But never fear; Darcy reminded us that the first step to fixing something is figuring out what needed fixing.
Besides strategies for strengthening plot and developing scenes, her method offers many new and powerful tools for deepening and texturing. One tool involves using word connotations to add depth. Word connotations help you make word choices that reinforce the story and deepen meaning. Darcy suggests having word banks and regularly depositing words that fit your story. They will be invaluable when you start considering narrative patterning and progressions.
Wait, what? I cannot explain here what it took us the whole weekend to understand but for any writer looking for a fresh and useful way to revise, I highly recommend going to Darcy’s wonderful website http://www.darcypattison.com to see what she has to say about these tools and more. Then buy her workbook and use it. Or better yet, gather a group of like-minded writers and have Darcy come for a weekend writer’s retreat.
The landscape of revision is a rocky one. But with a goodie bag, a compass and a readable map, the crossing doesn’t look so bad.
Take Good Care,