No doubt that revising is one of the more challenging aspects of writing. When writing the original draft, I allow myself to just write. I don’t edit as a I go unless I need to change a major plot point, and I don’t worry about gaps and weak spots. Just getting the story on the page is my only priority.
As I revise, though, I have to worry about both the big hole as well as the minutiae. Would so-and-so really say that? Is that in keeping with this character? Would that really happen at that point of the story? By fine-tuning the characters, I fine-tune the plot. As most writers know, plot is not what happens to your characters. The conflict itself is not the plot. How the characters respond to the conflict is what moves the story along, what creates the plot. The story is not “man discovers wife is cheating on him.” The story is his reaction. Does he cheat in revenge? Does he murder the other lover? His wife? Does his just continue his life as it is, ignoring the situation but allowing a deep-rooted bitterness to poison his marriage? That’s what makes the plot of the story.
When revising, for me even more so than in the original writing, I need to understand my characters inside and out. Why would they do this? What would they say here? In making sure everything is on the page, I need to have embraced every aspect of my characters’ lives. To that end, the characters become real to me, people with whom I’m spending time.
Last week I turned in the second revision of my novel to my agent. And while it’s a relief to be done, it’s a little bit of a shock to return to the outside world. I’m so absolutely fond of my characters–Dottie and Rose–that I miss being in their lives. When I’m writing/revising, they haunt my thoughts completely. While running in the morning, they acted out scenes in my mind, helping me resolve plot points. When I’m cooking up Shabbat dinner for my family, I think about how Rose might have done it. My story takes place in 1935, so working/thinking about the novel has been escapism in many ways from life today. (The movie Midnight in Paris resonated strongly with me, but that’s a post for another day.)
Now that my revision is in, I feel sad that Dottie and Rose aren’t in my life at the moment. I’m sure there will be more revisions–aren’t there always?–but probably the biggest ones have been done. I’m feeling quite good about where they are at the moment. There’s a certain loss when your characters aren’t a part of your daily life anymore. I see the lure of writing sequels, a chance to hang out with old friends again. For the moment, though, I need to let Dottie and Rose go and to live their lives on the pages. I need to find new friends to write about.