Extracting Blood from a Stone Would be Easier!

14 May

I’m referring to Lesson 3 of Holly Lisle’s revision course: How to Revise Your Novel.

This is my third time on this lesson but it doesn’t seem to get any easier. Each scene takes a long time to sort out. It’s slow, slow work; and something I find incredibly hard — much harder than any of the other lessons.

There are two difficulties.

1. Each scene must be condensed into one sentence containing all the parts Holly says are necessary. I agree, they are necessary to make each scene a scene. Finding the nub of the scene is difficult because I get led astray by all the extraneous detail, all the information, the wordage. It’s all necessary isn’t it? Well, no. Some parts are more necessary than others. Take away the really necessary parts and the scene no longer makes sense. Identifying those parts is as easy as picking up grains of sand with chopsicks.

So hard is this, that I’m beginning to wonder if the phraseology is leading me astray. If I ask, “What is the point of this scene?” rather than focussing on all the necessary parts, some of the fog begins to lift. It’s like those grains of sand become grains of rice.

2. After laboriously isolating the point of the scene, the next problem is to express it all in 30 words or less. Do I start with the Protagonist? Or what about the Protagonist’s actions? 30 words isn’t much, but there are a lot of permutations — some read better than others. This part is more like trying to eat slippery noodles with chopsticks — in my hands a messy business. 🙂

Once I’ve battled my way through a scene and whittled it down to a few things which seem absolutely necessary, hard though it is, I have a much better idea of the core of the scene on which all the other details are draped and hung as prettily as I can manage.

This is one amazing lesson. I’d like to work faster but can manage at best six scenes in three hours. It makes my head ache and my eyes water. The actual process involves scanning the scene to remind myself what’s in it, then jotting notes about what happens (that gets rid of huge numbers of words). Out of the notes I then decide what’s really important and start to work with that. Sometimes I feel confused and after some more work, realise that what I thought was important wasn’t. So that part gets thrown out and another bit added and round I go again.

I keep thinking that there has to be an easier way, that I’m missing something which would help me if only I knew what it was. I feel baffled, bemused and, it has to be said, inadequate (although why this lesson should make me feel like that I don’t know).

And there is this nagging feeling that extracting blood from a stone would be much, much easier! (Although less productive in a literary sense) 🙂


Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Uncategorized


8 responses to “Extracting Blood from a Stone Would be Easier!

  1. findingmycreature

    May 15, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Aren’t all of Holly’s lessons like extracting blood from a stone? haha Are you going through HTRYN with a new WIP or are you redoing it again? Best of luck…remember to take breaks so your brain doesn’t die!

    • Prue

      May 15, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      *lol* Holly’s course is like a mental survival course – the most exacting you can imagine. But one or two of the lessons I managed to get my head round and they didn’t pose any undue problems! Most did. Lesson 3 is the hardest for me.

      It’s on my novel Mystery in Morocco which I took through HTRYN once and got rid of a whole lot of mess. With that out of the way, I could see a whole lot more mess 😀
      Hence the second pass. Took a long short story through HTRYN too.

      Thanks for your good wishes and reminder. You are so right – breaks are important.

  2. Ramble

    May 15, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one going back to do lesson 3 again! It really is a tough one, but worth every drop of stony blood. Good luck!

  3. Prue

    May 15, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Hi Ramble, thanks for stopping by. And thanks for your good wishes. It’s good to know that I’m not alone too 🙂

  4. Kirsten

    May 16, 2012 at 4:18 am

    I love your analogy of how difficult it is to extract the essence of what happened (or what needs to happen!) in the scene. I had a lot of trouble with that too, because what my Muse insisted was important and cool in the scene was often not what drove the story forward. For instance, Mr. Muse would be enamored of a particular line of dialogue when, while interesting, it wasn’t really what the scene sentence should be about.
    I made my peace with ‘him’ (my subconscious, of course) when I assured him that the dialogue, or whatever it was, wouldn’t be cut, but that I needed to get at the purpose (what I call the ‘versus’) of the scene. Boiling what needed to happen to Protag vs ??? really helped me to pop out what needed to happen in this scene.
    Good luck with these, and don’t worry about the rate you are getting these done. Some will be easier than others, especially as you go along. It is very much like learning to play an instrument. It takes practice!
    Be kind to yourself. You will get this with time. 🙂

    • Prue

      May 16, 2012 at 10:54 am

      *lol* I do like the sound of your Muse. He sounds a character! 🙂
      Yes, I know the rate of work doesn’t matter, and it is very like learning to play an instrument — or learn a new language. I just want to see this book finished. Published would be nice 🙂
      You’re right — perseverence will pay off.
      Onward! Back to work.

  5. rae101049

    May 18, 2012 at 3:00 am

    Oh, yes. Chapter three is a bugger. Most of my final scene cards have first, second, third time attempts at squeezing blood from a stone stapled on them.

    Here’s an example:

    Scene thirty-four – First attempt:
    Characters enter Tent City, hide in an alley, Iris goes to find a telephone. Jim tells Grace that Tent city is a wild frontier town. Iris returns with money and good news. They have a place to stay for the night, Ed’s house.

    Scene thirty-four – Second attempt:
    They arrive at Ed’s house, find out he is Iris’ former lover. He feeds them dinner, listens to their story; he talks about riots, civil war in the capital, and they listen to frightening stories until Grace falls asleep.

    Ouch! What a mess.

    Finally, I ended up with this:

    Once inTent City, they go to Iris’ friends’ house and he warns them about civil-war in the capital and they make plans to escape safely the following morning.

    Strip it down to bare bones. If you end up with something that doesn’t take your characters from point A to point B, keep paring away.

    It sounds like you’re heading in the right direction. Believe me, this is a tough lesson, and it took me forever. And, even now, I look at a scene card and just moan. What was I thinking?

    You’re getting there. Just keep moving forward.

  6. Prue

    May 18, 2012 at 11:25 am

    That pretty well looks like the sort of thing I’m going through – especially the moan and ‘what was I thinking’ bit 😀
    Thanks for sharing that Nancy. In a strange way it makes me feel better. I thought it was just me being totally dense and not getting the right end of the stick!


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