A short excerpt from Eric Schaller’s story “To Assume the Writer’s Crown: Notes on the Craft, coming soon in Shadows & Tall Trees.
The sad fact of writing is that nothing will match your initial vision. Our character Mary may seem perfection itself. But try this experiment—I certainly have—leave her alone in the cellar for a few days, a week, a month, and then return. Formerly an angel, she will now be dirty, rank as onions, a clawing creature of the pit. With revision, she may once again approach that original ideal. Below, I suggest several strategies for revision.
The Kingectomy: Even Stephen King, one of the most prolific writers of our age, in his book On Writing, describes how he excises 10% of a story to achieve final form. Perhaps your character could use a diet, her excess ten percent whittled away symmetrically. But don’t feel so constrained. How about amputating a leg just below the knee? A one-legged runner has narrative possibilities.
The Straubing: In Peter Straub’s short story, “Blue Rose,” there is a description of how the narrator inserts a thick needle into the arm of his hypnotized brother. This scene, running for pages, captures the obsession with which an author focuses on a particular scene in need of revision. The author might, for example, flay a finger tip, then deciding this is not sufficient, retract the skin to the second knuckle. Blood dribbles. Something is still not right. The author extracts strands of muscle with a pen point, exposing pink nubs of bone. The author licks and tastes the tainted calcium, then gnaws at it to reveal the divine white bone of memory.
The Flauberation: Gustave Flaubert is quoted as saying, “I spent the morning putting in a comma and the afternoon removing it.” Do you remember Mary’s silvery blue eyes? She has only one now, having lost the other in a misguided attempt for freedom. But didn’t she function better with binocular vision? Editing is sometimes harder than even Flaubert could imagine.