A Toast is in Order!

Galileo wine
Perhaps a toast is in order?
What is the ritual sailors have for when they cross the equator? (I hope it doesn't involved getting a tattoo.) I feel like I should be doing something to celebrate the fact that my progress on the first draft of my novel has reached a significant milestone. The plot of my novel falls into three parts and I've recently completed the first part and moved on to the second.

The first part of the story takes place on a planetary survey vessel called the R. J. Boscovich, where my lead and her fella are falling in love just about the time that they learn the five year mission has been abruptly cancelled and they're about to be dumped on a space station at the back of beyond. Yikes! Fortunately, they decide to stick together and are planning a jaunt back to her home on Old Earth (yes, it's time for him to meet her parents), so when the Boscovich leaves them on station G16 (quaintly known as Swagman's Rest), they decide to take their time, have some fun, and weigh their options before choosing a route home.

Yugoslavian stamp honoring R J Boscovich, S. J.
Sounds like a happy ending on the way? Oh, no. Novels are all about conflict, and novel writing is all about making your protagonist trip over one obstacle after another on the rocky road to a (possibly) happy ending. So things are about to come crashing down around my carefree lass. Every time she begins to get her feet back under her, I'll pull the rug out again. But you know what they say -- anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger. By the end of the novel, my protagonist will be a stronger, and a better, person.

But I've got her over the first small hump of losing her job without losing her new sweetheart, and the two of them are already well on their way to the next big bump in the road. My job, however, will not end when I get them to that last scene -- at least, not on this first pass. Once I have the first draft completed, I'll still have plenty to do, editing and revising. And that is the really fun part, when I take my rough gem and begin to fashion it into a thing of beauty.

rough and cut peridot
Which one would you prefer?
Actually, gem-cutting is a pretty good analogy for revision. Many beginning writers -- that includes students as well as novelists -- think of revision and editing as cosmetic surgery (at best) or amputation and mutilation (at worst), but if understood correctly it is neither. The experienced gem-cutter knows that his job is to bring out the brilliance and beauty lying inside what must, in its uncut, unpolished state, look like a cloudy lump of mineral. And he does this by carefully cutting off the bits that are flawed, those parts detracting from the beauty of the whole, giving the stone a beautiful, symmetrical form that may be quite unlike its original form. Each cut creates a new facet which, along with all the other facets, will let light into the stone, reflect it, making it brighter, and magnifying the beauty, to create a spectacular effect. A diamond or emerald that started out as a murky bit of crystal ends up a glittering object of magnificent beauty. But that would never happen if the jeweler were afraid to make those cuts, too timid to give shape that nature hadn't provided.

So, too, no matter how shapely the first draft of a novel may be (and often it won't be shapely at all, but a fairly amorphous mess that just "grew like Topsy"), the writer must have the artistic insight to see the work of even greater beauty, more brilliant clarity, more spectacular, more splendid symmetry and depth, which is yet to be released from the murky lump of the first draft. And that brilliance and depth often can be achieved only by cutting, carefully shaping what is already there. Not until that process is done will the writer have a true gem of a novel.

But I'm still mining right now. When I've finished digging out the rough lump draft of my novel, I'll put on my jeweler's loupe and bring out the diamond saw of revision and the editor's grindstone to shape and polish it. But I've been learning, thinking, mulling, making notes, so that when I get to the first round of revision I'll have plenty of ideas about what need to be cut, what sharpened, what refined and reshaped. So for now, while I have that pleasure yet to look forward to, I celebrate the smaller milestones, getting my lead characters off the Boscovich and onto Space Hub G16, a.k.a. Swagman's Rest. I'll let them have a little fun before things turn dark, when I cast them into the deep sea of stars.

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