M. P. Barker: Class of 2k8


This is part of a year-long series about those intrepid newcomers, The Class of 2k8. To help marketing efforts for debut novelists, these 28 novelists have banded together to create a group marketing effort.

M.P. Barker

difficult boy A Difficult Boy, Holiday House.

Revising A Difficult Boy

Some writers claim to lo-o-o-ve revision. Then again, some people claim to love liver, shoveling snow, and, for all I know, root canal. Personally, I hate, loathe, and despise revising.

For me, each sentence comes torturously slowly, after hours of procrastinatorial cogitation and multiple permutations before I settle on it. By the time my “first” draft is complete, I’ve already done a lot of revising-as-I-go and have exhausted whatever spark of creativity prompted it. To revisit it is like going to a well long drawn dry.

On top of that, I am not one of those people who can write short. Nor am I one of those writers who can work from an outline. I take my characters, point them in a vague direction (sometimes no direction at all) and see what they’ll do. This leads to a story arc that looks more like an EKG than a bell curve. The first draft of A Difficult Boy was more than 700 pages long. So how did I trim more than 400 pages of flabby writing and unsightly prose? Patient friends and lots of office supplies.

Slashing a Mss in Half

  • Stage #1 (700 pages down to 500) – Four writer friends gave the manuscript a thorough going-over. If a section made all four hold their noses, I could be pretty sure that it really and truly did stink. I also remembered to grovel shamelessly in gratitude, because I could never have afforded to pay them.
  • Stage #2 (500 pages to 350) – I got a bulletin board, push pins, highlighters, scissors, tape, and Post-it notes. I assigned each character a different color highlighter, and assigned a letter code to each of the plot points or themes. I created a table with columns for: chapter and scene, time and setting, action, purpose of the scene, and themes or issues. I tacked the chart up on the bulletin board. Then I applied the highlighters and letter codes to the chart. That made it easy to see what was redundant or needed re-arranging. Then I got busy with the scissors, tape, and Post-it notes (plus one additional patient friend)…and the wastebasket. The 350-page version got me my agent and my publisher.
  • Stage #3 (350 pages to 275) – After receiving the five-page editorial letter pointing out all the book’s flaws, I spent three months staring at the manuscript, whining, accomplishing nothing, and in dire need of anti-depressants. A friend offered to help me by red-lining surplus paragraphs and sentences. She didn’t stop there, however, and began giving advice about major structural changes, which I received very ungraciously. We stayed up until two in the morning, me being a total witch, and her trying very hard to be helpful. I went to bed not knowing whether I should kill my friend, my editor, or myself, but certain I should flush the book. After three hours’ sleep, I woke up knowing exactly what to do. I pounded out a new outline in about two hours, and got the revisions done only a week behind schedule—much to my editor’s relief, I’m sure. My friend forgave me, my book will be coming out in April, and I owe my friend a hand-made shawl.

M.P. Barker, April 2008.

2k8 Stories

Look for these other 2k8 Stories:

March: Jody Feldman
April: Zu Vincent
April: M.P. Barker
May: Sarah Prineas
June: Daphne Grab
July: N.A. Nelson
August: Laurel Snyder
September: Nancy Viau
October: Ellen Booraem
October: P.J. Hoover
October: Courtney Sheinmel

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