In my Thanksgiving post, I quoted a passage from one of my favorite novels of all time, Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety. I flat out love this book. It's got Madison, it's got a story of an adult lifelong friendship between two couples, it's got a writer/teacher struggling to make sense of his place in the cosmos, and, above all, it's got magical, lyrical writing that I get completely lost in. It, along with a few other stories (The Sound and the Fury and The Things They Carried to name two) take my breath away.
But, I digress.
Here's another quote:
"Charity and Sally are stitched together with a thousand threads of feeling and shared experience. Each is for the other that one unfailingly understanding and sympathetic fellow-creature that everybody wishes for and many never find."
These two women know each other beyond knowing. And, so does Stegner. And that's what I've recently discovered again in my revisions.
With All the Numbers, when I wrote the scene in which my main character has to take her dead son's clothes to the funeral home, I knew I'd found the perfect place to open the book. But, this was actually the very last scene I wrote. Initially, I was surprised that I hadn't started here, but as I thought about it, I knew that would have been impossible. I hadn't yet wallowed in her world of grief to know what that moment would feel like for her. To know what it would mean for her to smell her son on his clothes. And to frantically not want to lose that scent. Until I'd written the rest of her story, I hadn't put in enough stitches. And when I had, it all worked.
I'm now in the final revisions of Unexpected Grace. And I had to do some major restitching of one of the narrative lines. Using completely different yarn. And, if a few months ago, you'd told me, gee, Judy, maybe you need to make that one guy die 8 months ago rather than 8 years ago, I would have panicked. Well, no, I'd have wanted to say (but I'd have been too tongue-tied to do so), I can't do that because, well, it's not how I thought it out and no, it just won't work. But, since I'd completed the story, I knew the characters so well that when it was suggested to me recently, I thought, oh my, that's exactly right. It was as if I'd pulled some threads too tight, and this one suggestion opened up so much more. And it's been incredibly easy. All because I'd thought I was done. I'd gone so far in with my characters; I knew them so well.
I HAD to know those thousand threads of my characters. And I could stitch and sew and pull and knot all I wanted, but until enough threads were present, I wouldn't have the full picture. And I might have to yank out an entire section and restitch. And in the process I'd probably poke my finger and perhaps even draw blood. But in the end I'd have a fully formed piece. Only because I'd allowed myself the luxury of a draft. I'd allowed myself to make a garment, try it on, let it out here and take it in there. Put it on the dummy and glance at it from all angles and under different lights. Revision truly is RE-VISION. Another look. A glance back.
And to go back to the quote--it's something everyone wishes for but many never find. Maybe because it requires a writer's eye.