davidbeem

What’s a Revision Look Like? Or, When is “Done” Done?

In Abyss of Chaos, books, On Writing on March 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Why does it take so long to produce a novel?  Well, there are multiple answers to that question, but undoubtedly the largest factor is revisions.  People are fond of saying that a novel is never done, only abandoned, and I’m beginning to believe that truer words were never spoken.

Today, I thought I’d post some of my revisions, and ask for feedback.  After all, revisions do not necessarily mean that something has become better, only that it has become different.  This excerpt is the very first paragraph of the book, so I hardly consider it a “spoiler,” but if you don’t want to know — stop reading now.

Last chance.

Here are two versions of the first paragraph of the Prologue to Abyss of Chaos.  The Prologue really needs to make a good impression if the reader is going to invest time — and money — in this book.  That impression begins with the first paragraph. 

Here are two versions.  First the older, then, the most recent.

**** 

Prologue

Jerusalem, 1146 A.D.  Slowly Al Qays Aasimah drew his longsword, the soft sound of steel barely audible over the pounding of blood in his ears.  His blade was badly tarnished, but no less deadly for the lack of cosmetic attention.  Only moments earlier the Chamber of Light had thundered with the sound of a thousand charging men – an illusion created by the cavernous sound-reflective surfaces down here.  There were only the two of them, but Aasimah intended to be the one who left alive. 

Prologue/Take 2

Jerusalem, 1146 A.D.  The sound of a thousand charging men thundered deep beneath the city of Jerusalem, obliterating the millennium of silence held fast inside forbidden catacombs.  Though the invaders were only two, the labyrinth of impossibly high columns and archways created an illusion of sound that exponentially multiplied their number.  Al Qays Aasimah came to an abrupt halt behind one of those broad columns, and after a moment, the echoing specter of thousands lifted.  The Chamber of Light fell silent once again.

****

At first glance, this may look less like a revision and more like a total rewrite — but that really isn’t the case.  Actually, all the material in version 1 remains in the prologue, (go have a read here,) I’ve only reorganized it.  Why?  I came to feel that version 1 served to needlessly frustrate rather than inform and “hook” the reader.  For instance:

“…an illusion created by the cavernous sound-reflective surfaces down here.

Where?  Version 2:

“The sound of a thousand charging men thundered deep beneath the city of Jerusalem,”

Now this may seem petty — but add this type of change by every paragraph within even one chapter, and one’s writing can become very confusing very quickly.  Further, each change of this type fans out through the veins of the entire prologue, and sometimes even the entire novel.

Additionally, version 2 offers a clearer picture of where the action is taking place.  Compare.  Here is version 1:

“…Chamber of Light had thundered with the sound of a thousand charging men – an illusion created by the cavernous sound-reflective surfaces down here.”

OK, they’re in the Chamber of Light, there’s echo and they’re “down here,” maybe…a cave?

Version 2

“The sound of a thousand charging men thundered deep beneath the city of Jerusalem, obliterating the millennium of silence held fast inside forbidden catacombs.  Though the invaders were only two, the labyrinth of impossibly high columns and archways created an illusion of sound that exponentially multiplied their number.  Al Qays Aasimah came to an abrupt halt behind one of those broad columns, and after a moment, the echoing specter of thousands lifted.  The Chamber of Light fell silent once again.”

Version 2 tells you so much more.  Where?  Deep beneath the city of J-land.  What does it look like?  A maze of really, really tall columns and archways – this is reiterated with the fourth bold section “one of those broad columns.”  Finally, what’s it like down there?  The area is forbidden, and has been for a really, really long time — the silence, “held fast” for a thousand years.  Version 2, I feel is far more evocative in that the intention is to impart the sense that the two people down there are intruders in a sacred place.  Does it work like that?  You tell me.  I’m new to this writing thing, but we are all “experts” as readers — except when reading our own stuff.  Then we authors need feedback!  If you’re inclined, please use the comment section below and let me know what you think.

Revisions are a many-headed serpent.  Strike down one, and multiple others arise.  They touch every aspect of one’s manuscript: grammar, syntax, content, presentation, and more.  In the beginning, my revisions were pretty basic stuff.  I went through, front to finish, searching for every “and then,” and made them “then.”   Or — thanks to my wife, sentences like, “Aasimah intended to be the one that left alive,” were rightly corrected to become, “Aasimah intended to be the one who left alive.”

Choosing a September release gives me a cut off, else I could be at this forever, but it has also proven to beg me back to this little thing here, or that little thing there when I was already willing to just let it go.  Nevertheless, come September 1, it’s out of my hands forever.  

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