I am about halfway through the ibook, Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters. The masters are Norman Mailer, Amy Tan, Earnest J Gaines, John Irving, Carol Shields, and Joyce Carol Oates.
I have read a couple of John Irving’s novels (The World According To Garp and Hotel New Hampshire) and seen at least three films adapted from his novels (the previous two plus The Cider House Rules). I have read one Norman Mailer novel (Tough Guys Don’t Dance) and seen the film that he directed of that novel. I have read The Best American Short Stories 1999 edited by Amy Tan (I loved her foreword where she said that a lot of the stories, which had all been previously published, she considered for the collection left her wondering what they hell they were about. So I am not the only one who is not afraid to admit they didn’t get a story.)
They all Started Young.
All the masters started writing when they were young. And they all had success when they were young: publishing award winning novels, winning scholarships to exclusive schools, winning short story competitions. Their early success is not good news for me, unless I count a high school teacher reading a story I wrote to mine and at least one other class due to its cleverness, or my writing of skits that were performed in university revues.
A couple of the masters did stop writing for a while to raise a family or fight in a war.
The ibook then got into the basics of writing. Nothing really new to me, until the section on revision came up. Revision is split into three very separate activities: redrafting, revising and then editing.
Once a first draft has been completed it is time to redraft it. “Redrafting is the process of making broad sweeping changes to the major elements of a story.” When redrafting the novel an author should consider the key elements of their story: POV, plot structure, the purpose of all the characters and the major themes of the story. Is there too much or too little mounting tension? “Does the theme clarify a universal truth the reader can relate to?” Redrafting is a time to really think about the novel overall and cut and replace large chunks of it.
The novel I am currently writing is 175,000 words and will probably creep over 200,000 before I am finished. So redrafting will be all about cutting it back in size. In the redrafting stage I will be asking myself whether I need the long build up to the crew reaching their destination. And then how (or if) to restructure and cut back on their time on the planet, which is crucial to the story as that is where the central character grows significantly.
After redrafting it is time to revise. “Often when writers think they are redrafting their stories, they are actually revising them. Revision is the act of tackling the smaller issues around language, scene, flow and nuance.” I am one of those misguided writers.
In the revision stage for my current manuscript, one of the things I plan to do is remove a lot of dialogue and paraphrasing it.
This involves the refinement of both content and structure. It is basically what I have come to call copy editing. Removing stray commas, getting rid of adverbs, changing say into said, removing overused words like “that” and “was”. Editing also involves making sure factual details are correct. Oh, faster than light travel ain’t possible, bummer. A second pair of eyes is recommending during the editing stage.
Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters is an ibook available from the Apple ibookstore section called itunes U.