Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook Buy This Book Amazon.com

The Art of Fiction: 

Revision Toolkit: Part 3

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
August 2007

Lisa Lenard-Cook is a regular columnist for Authorlink. She is an award-winning published author and writing instructor. This is another in the series, The Art of Fiction. Watch for her insights every month on Authorlink. Read more about Lisa.

"You’ve got to dig deeper, get to the core of what matters for your characters"
When it comes to writing fiction that connects, you can’t settle for the surface detail or description. You’ve got to dig deeper, get to the core of what matters for your characters: their deepest desires and their most dreaded fears.
"Getting to the heart of a fiction means digging deep within yourself."

Getting to the heart of a fiction means digging deep within yourself. This is why, when the going gets good, you may suddenly get the urge to get going—to anywhere but the writing. In his marvelous book, From Where You Dream, Robert Olen Butler reminds us that every day, the fiction writer must to go down to the white-hot center of her unconsciousness in order to discover what she really wants – needs – to say. Of course we’re going to resist this. And yet, if we want our fiction to connect with our reader on that gut level, if we want to write fiction that matters, and will continue to matter long after we’re gone, we’re going to have to leave our comfort zones every day and climb back down into our own particular deep, dark pits of despair.

What fun. No wonder we’d rather clean the litter box, calculate our tax returns, or play FreeCell. Anything but going there. Right?

Why We Write

I can’t answer the question of why you write, but I can tell you why I write. In fact, other writers have articulated my answer so well, I’d rather let them speak for me. Joan Didion, for example, says that she writes to find out what she’s thinking. And many, many writers say they write because they have to – because the alternative, not writing, would amount to a life not worth living. Up until I read From Where You Dream, I thought these two answers perfectly articulated my own particular need to write.

". . .writers write because they believe that they can find meaning in the chaos of day-to-day living . . "
But Butler goes further, saying that writers write because they believe that they can find meaning in the chaos of day-to-day living by imposing a fictive order. I found this idea so compelling that I sent it over to right brain, which immediately sent back a coded message that, translated, said, “Yeah, so? I knew that.” This suggests that the daily translation of mess to meaning that I discuss here each month is actually more logical than I’d imagined. If, as Butler posits, fiction writers believe in their guts that it’s only in articulating what can’t be articulated that the world will begin to make sense, the daily digging down becomes as necessary as the beating of our very hearts.
"Revisiting your fiction means going back to . . . the deepest part of your unconscious."

Gut Revision

If you write from the gut, revision and rewriting will involve revisiting your original white-hot matter so that you can begin to make sense of it. If you try to revise or rewrite without going deep into your fiction’s heart, your finished product will end up a surface without any depth.

That’s why this month’s revision toolkit consists of only one tool. It’s the heaviest one you’ll lift and wield, and the most important: Revisiting your fiction means going back to the place from whence it came, the deepest part of your unconscious, the place you’d rather not go. It’s there you’ll find what you left behind when you first wrote your fiction, and it’s there you’ll find your fiction’s heart, and soul.

Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, will be published in April 2008