Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Joseph Boyden on the Art of Revising

Joseph Boyden on the Art of Revising

This speaker is not only an author of both novels and short stories, he's also a professor at the University of New Orleans. He teaches his students to look at revising as finding the right way to tell the story.

In his classes for grad students, he has a list of "Rules of the Game"-- the sort of rules you've got to learn before you can break them.

1. For Boyden, Plausiblity, or the suspension of disbelief, ranks number one. Nothing jolts a reader out of the story faster than inconsistencies in character. Characters will/should change, but not without reason. Their motivation and willingness to change should come naturally as a part of the story.

2. Have a reader you trust. If you can't find someone you trust, read it aloud to yourself. Tape yourself reading and play it back to catch inconsistencies. Trust "the reader" as in, your audience. They are going to read based on their own personal experience, which may be completely different than yours.

3. Choice of narrator is key. They bring their own "baggage" to the story. They must take action, and not sit passively, all big eyes and ears. Victims of circumstance must eventually choose their own path. Readers want to side with a narrator NOT the author, which is why 3rd person omniscient pov has fallen out of favor. Which brings us to:

4. POV. How is the reader going to connect with your story?

Aside from sounding a trifle old-fashioned to the modern ear, 3rd omniscient never allows the reader to bridge the gap between them and the characters. Third person dramatic (a new one on me) tells a story using third person pronouns, but unlike limited or omniscient, the reader only sees what is obvious, the character actions, and is not given a glimpse into the minds of the characters.

Third limited is more or less exactly like first person, with different pronouns. It allows for greater empathy than omniscient. Second person narrative tends to read like an instruction manual.

90% of all first novels are told in 1st. The reasoning being that if we the writers are inside our character's heads, anything "they" say must be how they are experiencing life. But one of the pitfalls is to resort to too much telling. Its limitations include the inability to show the reader a scene if the narrator isn't there, and that it is more insular than third. Someone reading Nabokov's Lolita may feel uncomfortable referring to its anti-hero as "I" "Me", but might not have minded if it were in third. (Of course, in this case, prose and style win a lot of points over discomfort)

*If you alternate pov (at this point I swear he was staring right at me, like he knew about PARALLEL), you'd better have a good reason for it, and your results had better be effective.

Distance is the biggest problem during revision. Characters must come alive through action and dialogue, hence, interaction between characters is important. They play off one another, build each other's character.

5. It helps to break down the parts of your story into "Building Blocks".

a. Exposition- background, internal monologue, filling in the blanks. Not to be overused or abused, "telling" passages better have great "voice".

b. Scene- action as it happens. Sounds easy enough, but the actions must strike a balance with both Exposition, and:

c. Dialogue- speech. No "telling" of the plot, no "As you know, Bob..." Speech should reveal more about character and emotion than plot. If it feels too easy, it probably is.

6. Tempo- Not only is pacing important, but each individual sentence must have rhythym and emotional impact. Don't rush or drag out scenes or the emotion won't be there.

7. Finally, What you find yourself leaning on, is probably what you'll need to excise the most. (I think we can all look inside ourselves and answer that one.) Recognize when you're falling into patterns. Question your reasoning for making a decision you aren't sure about.

Tune in tomorrow for my notes on author and professor, Bev Marshall's class on creating memorable characters. Bev stepped in for E.M Kelby, who was unable to attend the festival.

And don't forget to visit The Beta Club today!

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