Ogallala Rewrite Continues

I’ve just hit 2300 words in my rewrite of Ogallala, which puts me at just under halfway for the target wordcount. (I’m going to shoot for 6000 words, though 7000 will be okay too if necessary.)

One of the things I learned at Clarion came into play in my rewrite, which is about characterization. Yes, some pretty strong objections were issued regarding the poor handling of science in the story. But of course, aside from some of my own goofs, I was also aware that some of the science involved was messed-up, because in one way the story is about the use and especially misuse of science in politics, both as a tool of oppression and as a tool of resistance to oppression.

The other, and to me the more important complaint, was about characterization. My characters simply did not walk, talk, and breathe the way they should. Sympathies fall a little too easily in one direction, and a sappy family subplot subverts the ending, in a way I don’t think it needs to do. In my stories, often there are more characters than we need. There are extra characters that do things which, on second glance, could be done by major characters. Katie could leave the room to get the ringing phone; Mike could make the tea. For some reason, my stories often end up overpopulated, though, and Katie and Mike continue their conversation while Lawrence gets the phone and Xyolryx the Droid goes off to make the tea.

The interesting thing is that the solution to this is to boil away the characters that matter less — the middlemen, so to speak — and let the characters who matter more embody what they are more thoroughly and deeply. This means eliminating unnecessary characters, and also eliminating unnecessary issues in the lives of the characters who remain. By combining one of my characters with a middleman who appeared earlier on in the story, I will be able to give him more stage time and a more nuanced depiction, as well. Likewise, I’m thinking I’ll boil away the bittersweet farewell to the family and let the guy confront the central dilemma that faces him, and with which he wrestles mostly offscreen in my previous draft. Better yet — the boiloff of the family can be linked directly to the central dilemma. In other words, I won’t simply eliminate the family from the draft; rather, some trace of them will remain, like a calcium deposit, and having boiled them off in a way that links to the central dilemma will lend that dilemma stronger force.

This metaphor of “boiling off” seems to be working well for me, in terms of the process of revision, given the way I draft stories. I am very much a kitchen-sink writer, someone who throws into a story a little bit of everything he’s interested in, everything interesting he’s come across that can fit into a piece. This, obviously, leads to long stories with many tangents, and those tangents are, unfortunately, so interesting that they’re not mere babies to be slashed from the story. They add depth and resonance to the stories, but the problem is that they sometimes add too much of it. The solution is not merely to cut these excesses away, but to distill the story down, diluting a little when necessary. I am much happier reworking the trace of what remains, allowing it to thicken the broth and nuance the main flavours.

Anyway, I’m now at 2300 words for Ogallala, and with only three classes remaining this semester, and one exam next week, I’m thinking I should be close to finished this story by the weekend. I think I’ll even put aside the essays coming in on Friday until the story is done and posted off for consideration for Tesseracts11.

UPDATE (later that day): By calling-it-quits time, which is now, I have a very nice hanging link and an idea of the chunk of history I’m going to bring bubbling up out of the icy waters of the past from the life of my hero, and my “villain” has also managed to talk about his history in a rather interesting (I think) way. I’m now at 4825 words and I’m thinking that this is not going to get told in 6000 words. However, it might just get told in 7500. We’ll see.

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