The Act of Revision

Hemingway knew how to edit and his writing was always uncluttered and pure.

charles french words reading and writing


Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956) 1


The act of revision is an absolutely necessary part of writing, no matter what kind. Essays, stories, novels, books all require that the author not be satisfied with initial drafts. “Re-vision” means to re-see, or to look at the work from another perspective. This idea is something I try to teach my students in College First Year Writing classes, and it is crucial that I apply the ideas myself to my own work.

When I look back over my writing of the last few years, I can see that…

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When characters do as they please . . .

So, I thought I was a writer . . . or becoming one, anyway. I was going to create characters and make them do things the way I wanted. Obviously I didn’t know much about writing yet.

Why do I say that?

Because your characters often do as they please. But, even more surprisingly, they can put themselves in the story when you had no such intention. In fact, you did not even know of their existence, and you most certainly didn’t ‘think them up’. Well, that was my weird experience. Especially with Jacques . . .

I was tinkering away on the opening chapters of my new book Seven Seconds, when jacquessomeone kept tapping my shoulder, creatively speaking, that is. “I wanna be in your book,” he said. I wasn’t freaked out, because strange things happen in the psyche when you decide to go on the Imagine Journey. I knew I couldn’t put him in the book, because I had three characters who were going to be trapped in a falling lift, dash through a time travel portal, and then spend most of the book in Jerusalem AD 33. So what on earth was I going to do with the tall, middle-aged fellow called Jacques? Nope, no room for him at this inn.

But he continued. The nagging became begging, crying even, and there is nothing more pitiful than a middle-aged begging man. I even heard “I don’t have a job. Please, please let me be in your book. I’ll be the night watchman of the hotel, if you want. I’ll do anything.”

Characters are smart, and Jacques is uber smart. I fell for the night watchman idea. After all, the hotel is basically a derelict building where a bunch of revellers are going to party-in 2015.

But the minute I signed him up as the night watchman for The Presidential Hotel in Seven Seconds–and I could see exactly how he was going to form an important behind the scenes character–he came with a problem. His daughter was having a baby on the evening in question, and he had to bring his five year old grandson to work. Yep, otherwise he couldn’t be in the book. He was the first person I ever employed, and he came with a lot of nonsense.

If you think I’m crazy, join the club. I’m chairman of the club. None of this happened in any way, shape or form in reality. It was all a very real figment of my imagination.

                                     So what is our imagination actually?

                                  Where do these characters come from?

                   And what makes them act intelligently apart from us?

I let Jacques have his way, and he brought Sam, the kid. Not only did Jacques endear himself and Sam to me in a few pages, and make me cry (yeah, crazy, I know), but in a flash I had the title and full story for the sequel, Asiam Soru.

I am not a very experienced (read published! writer), but I can give you one bit of advice: listen to your characters, they may know something you don’t. After all, they live in the place of make believe, where time stands still just because you closed the book, and can jump centuries with a turn of the page. Those characters live there, so surely they have some inside information that may be helpful to you.

The three questions posed above? I would appreciate your thoughts.

Write on!


Why do we read?

luggage3I know why I read.

It’s pretty simple. I like to travel to another place and time, without having to pack. My sisters and brother are well-seasoned travellers and often try to encourage me to travel. And, believe it or not, I am not interested in the idea at all. I already travel enough, and the places I visit are far more amazing than any Taj Mahal or pyramid.

You see, I have travelled to a farm called Tara in the time of the American Civil War, I have been to Oz (not Australia), and I sat on the bench with jurors in a serial murder court case. People who don’t read will never have these experiences, no matter how much they travel.

And when you travel (and I mean the kind of traveling that entails you having to make sure your shampoo doesn’t leak) you have the dubious distinction of being a tourist. People spot you from a mile away and you are required to pay more for your coffee than you would if you lived in the apartment above the coffee shop.  When you read, you have full citizenship. Opening the book entitles you to more than a green card. You are invited to join in and you can, because you speak the language, look the part, know the jargon–you sometimes even know the thoughts of the people around you.

I may still travel. If I do, it will probably be to Israel. My sister is going there in August, and I am green with envy, which has never happened before–not when it comes to traveling.

But for now, I am heading back to Jerusalem in AD 33, just to make sure that my characters are minding their Ps and Qs and doing what I tell them to. They don’t always, but I’ll tell you about it in the next post.

Where have you been recently?

Bon Voyage!