Friday, March 13, 2009

Before And After

There are a couple of things I try to accomplish when I do rewrites. Well, three things, since the first is get the job done before I break down from boredom.

The other two (more subtle) things are to solve problems and to tighten the book. Or thicken the book, since there are times when I underwrite and have to go back and make things juicier. So I guess that makes four things I try to accomplish. Boy, I work hard.

Remember, way back when (excuse me for a moment, when I look to see way back when was). January 8, it turns out to have been. I posted a scene where Miranda and Mom fight, and there's a misunderstanding about the fate of Matt and Jon, who are away fishing for shad.

Even at the time, I knew Mom would never refer to them as "the others," which was key to the misunderstanding. So, thanks to the miracles of my brain and computer skills, I've solved that problem. Among the dead bodies Miranda sees on the mound of bodies are two guys (never heard of before, never heard of since)- the Beasley Boys. Hold on again, while I get the description of them:

...the Beasley boys, two old guys without many teeth, who sat in front of the hardware store, good weather or bad, and chattered in some secret code to each other.

The Beasley boys were descended from Jedediah Howell, the same as Mom. The same as me.

Now when Miranda and Mom have the fight, Mom refers to "the boys," meaning Matt and Jon, and Miranda, having just seen the dead Beasley boys, thinks that's who she means, and confusion ensues.

It pays to know your corpses.

The following is a tiny taste of both of tightening and thickening. Much of the tightening I've been doing is getting rid of the "just"s and "so"s and "really"s and "even"s, while keeping the flavor of Miranda's speech/writing. I agonize over every "just" (and there are thousands of them).

But occasionally, there's a scene that's too clumpy and needs cutting, and then I do. Here's the version of a conversation between Miranda and Alex. It's their first time doing something together and getting to know each other:

"Who was in Tulsa?" I asked. "Or did you just pass through there."

"We thought we'd find our aunt and uncle," Alex said. "They'd set out for there. We spent a couple of days looking for them, but no luck."

"What was Tulsa like?" I asked. "Were there people there?"

"Oh yeah," Alex said. "Not like there used to be, I'm sure, but there were still people."

"But you didn't stay," I said. "Could you have?"

"I suppose," Alex said. "Maybe we should have. It's hard to know what to do with Julie. If we'd stayed in Tulsa, anywhere, I'd have had to to work, and that's okay. I don't mind that. But it would have meant either Julie would have to work too or she'd be left unsupervised."

"She's a good kid," I said. "She wouldn't get into trouble."

"Trouble would have found her," Alex said. "It wouldn't have been safe."

Now here's the edited version:

“Who was in Tulsa?” I asked. “Or did you just pass through there?” It was easier to ask Alex questions, since we were both facing frontward and not looking at each other.

“We thought we’d find our aunt and uncle,” Alex said. “They’d set out for there last June. We spent a couple of days looking for them, but no luck.”

“What was Tulsa like?” I asked. “Were there people there?”

“Oh yeah,” Alex said. “Not like there used to be, I’m sure, but there were still people.”

“But you didn’t stay,” I said. “Could you have?”

“I suppose,” Alex said. “Maybe we should have. It’s hard to know what to do with Julie.”

“She’s a good kid,” I said. “She wouldn’t get into trouble.”

“Trouble would have found her,” Alex said. “It wouldn’t have been safe.”

See the difference? Well, I sure hope so. Otherwise all the work I've been doing has been in vain.

And the only thing vain around here I approve of is me!