Thursday, 3 May 2012

New draft, new title, new pace

I decided to do an MA a couple of years ago, and it was a positive experience. I don't think I needed to do it learn storytelling, nor the basic craft of writing, but it definitely how to approach my own work as a reader. It also gave me a lot of confidence in research, allowing the new information to colour my book, until the final book is now definitely colourful. What it didn't teach me how to pace a novel, which was my main reason for doing the MA. 

That I have learned over the last few weeks. After a first read, the agent gave me simple but sweeping feedback on the newly titled, The Secrets of Life and Death. The historical strand needed developing, and investing in. So I sat down and wrote new chapters, effectively finishing the story, rewriting the whole thread to build tension. She also suggested I allow the emotional chapters more room, more emphasis, what she described as 'more violins'. The truth is, I tend to underplay emotional scenes. I'm worried about them being too emotional, but also, I tend to deflect my own big emotions with wisecracks, and so does my main character.

The second round of suggestions from the agent were to look at the baggy, unfocused middle chapters in the contemporary strand, and trim them down. I managed to find four thousand words I didn't need, quite easily, and rewrote one of the contemporary character's plot line throughout. This meant chasing him through every chapter subsequent to his arrival.

I also put 'LY' into 'find' on MS Word, and tracked down four hundred adverbs I really didn't need, or could write more powerfully. A few words like 'rely' and 'belly' were highlighted, but out of 99,000 words, a shocking 800 were adverbs. Adverbs are often unhelpful because they are shortcuts, abstractions, which tell rather than show. 'She walked cautiously' could perhaps be better written as 'she crept forward'. There are so many more emotional, active verbs, so adverbs are a cop out. I left a lot in speech, where we use them all the time, but was horrified how many times I had written 'really'. What a useless word! Really!