Monday, November 15, 2010

Revision Plus (Darcy Pattison's Novel Revision Workshop)

There's a reason it's called revision. "Re-vision"..."re-envision"...see your work in an entirely new light. Darcy Pattison has been conducting whole novel revision workshops for years, and I've been wanting to attend one for the longest time, and now I know why these retreats are so widely acclaimed.

Years ago, when I was revising Faithful, I used Darcy's book Novel Metamorphosis (ordered at the bookstore) and found it immensely helpful. Even so, it paled next to the experience.

For one thing, Darcy groups participants so that you critique intensively with 3 other authors: you've read their stories and they've read yours. At each learning interval Darcy admits time for the group to discuss that craft issue (plot, character, setting, etc.) in each other's work. This intense discussion and re-discussion - this revisiting the topics over and over - allows for increasingly deeper analysis and deeper focus, and opens the way for a trusting bond among participants. I didn't know about or expect this aspect of the workshop, and I loved it. Loved it.

I'm going to give you a set of bullet points, things that we did/that I learned:

  • the novel inventory - a chapter by chapter look at action and emotion to reveal tension and strong/weak chapters
  • the "shrunken manuscript" - a Darcy original - the manuscript in 8 point font, that can be laid out all at once and allows the writer to see (through the clever use of markers) holes in plot, character development, tension, etc.
  • the narrative arc worksheet - by working through the narrative arc on my shrunken manuscript, I learned that, in the novel I brought, my antagonist didn't actually appear until late in the story. Yikes. Now, why didn't I see that at full scale? Because I was too preoccupied with the words.
  • the emotional arc and character analysis - deepening characters, finding their emotional epiphanies, and connecting the emotional and plot arcs, and intensifying emotions through the use of stronger verbs
  • dialogue techniques - Darcy has a really nice way of simplifying dialogue techniques and demonstrating different ways that exchanges can convey additional information (information that isn't on the page or in the actual dialogue but that exists in subtext through gesture) 
  • choosing sensory details - using markers again on a particular scene, I discovered that I had plenty of visual and some auditory information but that the rest of the senses were utterly ignored. After an exercise in which I free-wrote just sensory details I was able to find a handful to work into the scene
  • connotations and deeper meanings - our entire group came up with improvements to our manuscripts when we brainstormed word connotations and found how we could use them in our manuscripts to deepen the emotional core
I've done lots of workshops, but this was outstanding. Intense, constrained by time, but invaluable. I came away with a workbook that I'll use on every novel from now on.

So, what do you do if you can't attend Darcy's workshop?

First, you can buy her book - it's terrific.

Second, if you have critique partners, you can use the book to guide yourselves through the group exercises and, believe me, that alone will be worth the energy. (If you don't have critique partners...try to find some. Maybe I should discuss that in another post?)

Oh, yes, we did have fun! Meals, a movie (primed for discussion about repetition), and after a wonderful walk with Darcy I even had time to do a little roaming around town and found a green top that looks so much like Maggie's dress in Faithful...I can't wait to find a skirt and wear it. (See? There's actual lacing in it! Fun!)

Re-envision. Whether it's your novel, or a new approach to your writing, or yourself in a slinky green dress...


Lynne Kelly Hoenig said...

Yes, it was a fabulous weekend, wasn't it? I also used Novel Metamorphosis when I was revising my first novel, and it helped so much, but seeing the activities and interacting with the group was even better.

And what a great top you found!

Janet Fox said...

Lynne - I wish we could have spent more time together. I'm dying to hear more about your novel.

Yes, it just shows how sometimes you need that community (plus, love the fact that I found that green!)

Vonna said...

I am still so excited over that workshop. I wish it could have lasted at least another day or two. One regret is that there wasn't enough time to get to know all the wonderful writers there. When everyone else went for a walk (and bought gorgeous green blouses and such) I had to go to my room and crash.

Janet Fox said...

Vonna - I SO agree!! I was hoping to spend tons of time visiting with you and Lynne and all the other wonderful people I've spent far too little time with. Alas.

I think we need a follow-up workshop - revisit the ideas and make time for just socializing.

Shelli Cornelison said...

Janet, okay I found the jewelry shop but I think I should've gone on that walk. Love the top. And everything you said about the workshop is spot on! So much fun and so beneficial.

Janet Fox said...

Shelli - It was amazing, wasn't it?

The only thing about the top is - it's not sleeveless like the cover. Something about arms no longer young...