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The Coffin Haulers: Another Update

January 11, 2013

Nearly 40,000 words into my next novel, “The Coffin Haulers,” and not sure how to resolve some of the plot points as I near the end, I went back and re-read everything I’d written and started to rewrite the portions that lead up to the climax.

I got rid  of one character; he contributed nothing to the story. I changed another character to make him more sympathetic, and thus I changed the plot.  I expanded the character I named Aneta, and her relationship to the “more sympathetic” character, to enrich the plot. I changed the age of a character, the description of another, the motivation of still another character so that his role in the story becomes clearer.

I think I deleted about 1,000 words of useless description, plot points (which I thought were important when I first wrote them) and incidents that surely moved the story forward (they didn’t).

There were passages that absolutely thrilled me when I first wrote them, and on the second reading turned out to be nothing more than window dressing. I was full of myself as a writer, and more realistic as an editor when I acknowledged that the words I wrote were just me being “creative.”

William Faulkner once told an interviewer that as a writer you must have the discipline to “kill all your babies,” meaning delete everything that you’re proud of but which adds nothing to plot and characterization.

It’s a tough job. It’s humiliating to the soul of a writer to look at something he or she has written and to admit: What a load of crap.

But it’s necessary. No one’s perfect. The first version of a sentence is not always the best. When I write a sentence I always keep in my mind how it fits with the one before and after, what it says about the character or story.

That’s not easy. I look at sentences and remember how confident I was when I wrote them. In the editing process I see how sometimes they’re banal.

I try to remember, when writing, the perfect (or nearly perfect) sentence ever written. It’s in the James Joyce story “Eveline,” in his book “Dubliners,”and it conveys the proper mood and characterization. This is the sentence:

She was tired.

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2 Comments
  1. I’m learning more and more every day how to “Kill my babies” and the more I do it, the better experience I find that I have with writing. You said it perfectly when you said it is humiliating to admit you’ve written poorly but as I learn to embrace the fact that the first time around will be nothing less, it makes me excited for the rewriting because that’s where, I find, all the magic happens. Good luck to you as you continue your novel.

    ~ O

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