Thursday, May 31, 2012

Vinegar and Salt

Hi readers and writers,

When I write my first drafts, definitely to Anne Lamott's prescribed degree of non-excellence, I often reread them and wonder, "Where's the beef?"  The thing I tend to leave out is the tension.  One of my friends from many years ago once made a dish called Slum Gullion, essentially Beef Stroganoff with burger substituted for the steak.  She forgot the vinegar and salt, and it was so bland we had decided never to use the recipe again until she reread it and realized what she had left out: the taste, the subtle items that make you want more so you can figure it out.  My first drafts can be that way.  The bones of the story are there, but the lines between them are all slack and there's nothing urgent about how things are connected.  Revision is where I actually put together the motivation, the tension, the stress and write them into the story.

Adding tension sounds like there's no way it could work.  Not true, though.  It's implied there already, but in the written part, it's not featured.  I just need to bring it out, show the dialog with subtext and conflicting desires, let the characters try to move the story towards their individual dreams.  I often cut out text that is over-the-top descriptive or contains information in excess and replace it with these elements that ratchet up the stakes for the characters.

What are your revision strategies?  Do you need to add tension, or do you concentrate on the beauty of the sentences, or do you add subplots?

Image from Creative Commons/Wikipedia with thanks.


Anonymous said...

I write those sh**((y first drafts too, Laura, and have to revise. But with me, I have the opposite. Too much tension, subplots running all over the place. I have to simplify to make any sense out of the overall scenario when I revise. Sometimes I cut out more than I leave in!

Miranda C

Anonymous said...

Hi Laura,
I remember one of our teachers at Vroman's said the same thing you said. She had boring first drafts and had to put the conflict in later. As I recall, she had a few best-sellers though so it seems to work!


Anonymous said...

I'm more into making the language beautiful, putting in some well-chosen, polished words, taking out things that don't really contribute anything but ballast. Revision is all about prose poetry for me.

Marcus M

SharonW said...

Usually the first thing I need to do is expand! I tend to write in a sort of shorthand, assuming that the reader knows background information that was right there inside my head in plain sight. On revision, I try to read like a stranger - then I fill in the missing pieces.