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.
Zu Vincent, The Lucky Place , Front Street Press
“A quietly powerful and important story. Zu’s vignettes weave a novel that, from moment to moment, takes your breath—then gently hands it back to you again. Lovely.”
—Jacqueline Woodson on The Lucky Place (Front Street Press)
Zu Vincent tells this story about revising The Lucky Place:
Revision is about shape. The shape your story is in and the shape you want it to become. Part of this shaping happens in line edits and choosing the best, most evocative words, but before you look at the nuts and bolts, look to your characters. Study, as John Gardner put it, the fortunes of those characters. And give those fortunes to us.
As Gardner warned, characters can’t be murky, as if seen through shower glass. They need to emerge exquisitely drawn in our sight.
Ironically, the way to do this is not to expand—but to narrow—characters in revision.
Think of Charlie Chaplin in his constricting black suit, with his tilty walk and twitchy mustache. He’s created in such thin detail he jumps to life on the screen. And that detail is thin because it exists only for the world of Chaplin, like the cartoon desert exists for Road Runner. Yes Chaplin is odd and quirky, but we see this so clearly because he’s tightly drawn in those details. And being tightly drawn, he’s made familiar.
Look for the Chaplin in your characters when you revise. Make them stand out by making them human, in all their odd vulnerability. Not only in their appearance but in their heart and in the heart of their world. Characters are shaped by this world and have something of their own at stake. They don’t simply react to another character’s desires, but have desires of their own.
That’s why shaping in revision isn’t just mechanical, but emotional at its core. It’s shaping the soul of your story until it rings true. Until the truth you hear in your head is sounding loud on the page.
As Paul Klee said of art, “Only after the writer lets literature shape her can she perhaps shape literature…. Art must enter the body… a painter cannot use paint like glue or screws to fasten down the world.” Rather, “You adapt yourself,” Klee said, “to the contents of the paint box.”
What characters have emerged from your paint box? How can they be more finely drawn? Characters don’t so much come from real life as from the story canvas you’ve created. They live in the world on your page and that world is woven not only from its people but from its plot and setting, too.
Even before you revise, listen to what your characters are saying and doing, look at the world you’ve set them in, because most often the answers to what you need next are already floating there, dredged up from the subconscious, waiting for you to notice. Waiting for you to dig in and give them final shape.
For more about the author, see www.zuvincent.com or the Y28 website.
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