Tuesday, May 18, 2010

David Huddle on revision

From the chapter, "Let's Say You Wrote Badly":

1. If you're a regular writer with your appointed portion of esthetic luck, you'll need to come at the piece again and again.
2. Revision is democracy's literary method, the tool that allows an ordinary person to aspire to extraordinary achievement.

I like these two statements by Huddle. I like the first for its choice of verb "come at." Many writers think that revising their work means deciding to put in or take out a comma or changing a character's hair color. Those can be important decisions, especially the latter since hair color can often be symbolic of other character traits. But Huddle is talking about the angle, the lens with which we review our writing. It's analyzing the plot structure to see if the narrative arc will hold, if the tension of obstacle and success, of challenge and reward are sufficient. It's making a pass through that studies character specifically, first the minor characters (are they sufficiently detailed to be believable?), and then the major players (has the writer plumbed the depths of their personalities and souls?). It may involve an analysis of description: where is there too much and where too little? Coming at the piece again and again is not the same as reading it over and over.

I like his second statement for the hope and reality of it. A few people seem to be born writers of magnitude, just like there are a few born to be composers or great painters. But revision allows those of us with lesser talents to learn and grow and hone our craft and skills if we are willing to put in the reading and writing and rewriting time. I like the hopefulness in that.

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