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) 🙂