Revising Chapter Three

I’ve spent quite considerable time over the past week revising the chapter three that I read at last Monday’s workshop. As previously I’ve had lots of really useful comments written on my manuscripts by the other students. It’s also quite difficult and time-consuming to keep track of the changes marked in a dozen or so annotated scripts but I’ve been careful to go through all of the comments, note the parts where there’s obvious consensus and weigh up the different perspectives.

It’s quite difficult as people have different preferences and in more than one place I’ve had someone cross out a sentence that has been ticked or praised by another person. It’s the fourth time I’ve had the feedback now and I’m coming to know various people’s preferences, which unsurprisingly tend to mirror their own writing style (lean and taut in some cases, lyrical and colourful in others, empathetic and intense and so on). Having had a few days to mull it over, I’ve probably found the harshest feedback the most useful. I eliminated about 100 words out of the original 2,600 mainly by deleting adverbs and unnecessary bits of speech, such as ‘not really’. Some of the mistakes that I had in the extract are pretty obvious errors in retrospect. My thirteen year old daughter saw Rick’s corrections and told me off about ‘stared briefly’ as well — ‘you can’t stare briefly’.

I also managed to restructure some of the more troublesome sentences with some help from people’s suggestions. For example, this long sentence now reads better than previously, although I’m still not sure if I have it completely right: ‘As she breathed, her chest pushed forward and the outline of her breasts stretched the previously slack material, jolting James a little as he realised that hidden underneath her sexless clothing was a distinctly female form.’ (I’ve just revised it yet again while posting it here.) This was the passage was that caused the previously-mentioned controversy about James — whether he was outrageously judgemental about Kim’s appearance or just ‘doing what men do’.

While I’ve pruned it quite a bit I’ve also added in about 50 extra words to address other concerns. One was about emphasising the Kim’s German background. I’ve replaced one of James’ slightly lame phrases of approbation with ‘Wunderbar’ (actually the name of a Cadbury’s chocolate bar on sale in Germany). I also had Kim respond to James’ declaration of passion for food’s favours and textures by her saying that it didn’t really apply to German food — all sauerkraut and currywurst. (I’m quite an expert on the sort of food Germans eat, having had countless meals in the works canteen of a DAX-30 listed company and eaten in restaurants all over Germany as well as eaten plenty of beer-soaking-up food in Biergartens and Weinachtmarkts.)

One question I have that I’d be interested in having answered is whether if you’re writing a German noun in an English piece of writing whether you retain the initial capital letter — as in Biergarten.

While revising Chapter Three, I went back to Chapter Two of ‘The Angel just to check for continuity and it’s a good job that I did. Alison marked this over the Easter holidays and perhaps it’s no wonder she commented that the payment of the money for the painting was too long and drawn out in ├é┬áChapter Three: it had already happened in the Chapter Two that she’d read. She must have had at least a sense of deja vu.

Alison and a couple of other people also wanted Kim a little more agitated and stressed. I’m not sure if I’ve achieved that but I wanted to try and give James the effect of disarming other people — being quite good at putting people at their ease, mainly through his ability to not worry too much when he’s making a prick of himself. (I have an inspiration for this in mind — a famous TV presenter whose Tweets I follow and with whom I occasionally converse myself via Twitter.) I’m not sure about whether I’ve tightened up the pace a lot. This was something Alison commented on after hearing it read aloud but others had said it had gone quickly when read somewhere like a plane (good sign perhaps?).

I had quite a strange attitude to workshopping this piece. It was a piece I hoped I’d write past and so have something more filled with action to present to the group. When people were critical of certain aspects I was a bit non-plussed but I’d not had particularly high expectations for it. Perhaps I was hoping to ‘wing it’ a bit and hope that this part didn’t get scrutinised too hard — but found I was being picked up on things I’d tried to avoid thinking about, which was quite uncomfortable but necessary. In the end, I think I’ve got a pretty decent 2,500 now — quite a lot better than before the workshop and something that will better stand on its own rather than be a bit of a dump for setting up plot elements.

I’ve found it pretty difficult to get started again after this — partly events over the Bank Holiday (potatoes crying out to be planted) and the election is an incredible distraction. I’ve been staying up too late after debates and on other nights to take in all the coverage — good research for Burying Bad News, though.