To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what a ‘retrospective’ is. It’s probably the sort of spective they used in the 1980s. But it sounds suave, if that’s the word I’m looking for. In the interest of self-definition this—this post, here and now—is a retrospective.
So ponder no more.
Which—I might add—is exactly what I’m not doing. I’m pondering more than ever. That, after all, is the Seventh Step of the Seven Step Novel Revision Programme that Jenna St. Hilaire happily unleashed on us.
So far in step seven, I’ve mainly been rethinking my (admittedly slapdash) experience of the seven steps—primarily their nicely detailed scenework.
Did the bulleted list of scenes help me improve my novella, I wonder?
Did the time spent reworking the text sharpen the story?
And will I do this again?
These questions don’t exactly keep me awake at night (I have a baby for that), but they do keep me thinking. Let me address the sampling of questions I just randomly asked.
Did the bulleted list of scenes help me improve my novella? To be honest, I only reread it once after I wrote it. It’s not the sort of thing I enjoy reading. My tendency is to hold stories, their moves and their structure, in my head.
As a static document—it looks cool, with appropriate crumples and scribbles from my reading—but it’s not a significant reference.
That said, the act of writing it was immense help. It forced me to think slowly about my novella, and its structure. It helped me look at the timeline as a whole—useful, since the story’s a chronological braid, with three separate timelines converging. It helped me make the decision to change the order of two (nonlinear) scenes.
So as a fluid document—in preparation and in an initial read—it helped. I can imagine it being an even greater help in a full-length novel with multiple point-of-view characters.
Did the time spent reworking the text sharpen the story? I wonder why I even ask this question. Yes, of course the answer is yes. The intensive, critical review of your manuscript that Jenna recommends is invaluable to any storyteller, any writer. The changes made might be minimal, but they will almost always be crucial. (Commas matter.)
In my case, the changes through the seven step process were mostly minimal. That’s mostly because I’d already spent considerable time working on this manuscript. And, like Sid Fleischman, I edit as I write. I write slower than I can type, editing and re-editing as I go. There’s less to do in the end that way, I find, and it’s more fun since there’s less of your manuscript that you read thinking, “Hey, this is awful!”
I’m mindful in editing, too, of the temporal nature of these manuscripts. They are what they are because we wrote them at a certain time. If we’d sat down at the keyboard a different time—the same story would have emerged, but with different words. Perhaps even a different plot. Who knows? We don’t.
There might be thousands or millions of parallel Mr. Ponds and Jenna St. Hilaires, in parallel universes writing parallel blogs and parallel manuscripts, who know, but until I can get my Dimension Hopper to start hopping parallel again, we don’t know.
I think it was Keats who cautioned against over-editing—who urged respect for the fire of muse that spoke in the moment, the inspiration, of writing. But then Keats was usually ‘an inspired editor’, too. So it cuts both ways.
And will I do this again? Yes, almost certainly.
Now you go do it.
Let me know how it works.