Sunday, November 08, 2009

Invisible Nets

You can get caught in invisible nets when trying to revise if you’re not careful, if you look too closely at the words instead of pulling back and looking at the larger picture. Words will trap you, keep you from seeing the structure–or lack of structure–of your story.

A few weeks ago I discovered that I was caught in an invisible net as I was revising my latest draft of a 40,000 word manuscript. One of the chapters had ballooned to twice the size of the other chapters, but I hadn’t noticed it until my editor asked for a word count.

Chapter by chapter, I tallied the words. When I was done, I discovered that the larger chapter stood out the way a lighthouse stands out on shore, the tallest structure for miles.

And I knew that I needed to cut the chapter somehow, and I focused on the words, thinking that I could find a way to delete enough to shrink the chapter in half.

Only cutting away words wasn’t what the chapter needed.

Not until I stopped looking at the words and looked instead beyond the words at the ideas underlying the chapter–at the concepts on which the chapter had been constructed–could I detect the problem.

Why was it such a large chapter? Without knowing it, I’d unwittingly combined two ideas into one. The ideas behind the words showed me where the chapter should be divided and helped me escape from the invisible net blocking my view.

It’s easy to find yourself trapped in the invisible net of your own words.

Sometimes when you revise, you have to let go of the words, look past them, and see the underlying structure of ideas if you hope to avoid getting caught in invisible nets.

For more on revision--radical, global, and other strategies--take a look at:

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