Big Boned Revision

I have one large scene to write from scratch today. My editor thinks Franny should be present when JFK gives his Cuban Missile Crisis speech, the night of October 22, 1962, a Tuesday night. The speech is school-assigned extra-credit for Franny, but her mother doesn't allow her to watch it.

Why not? Franny's mom doesn't want the children upset -- the situation is tense enough already.

But really -- REALLY -- why not? -- The author wants Franny to have time to read Jo Ellen's letter.

This is a convenience for the author, and my editor caught it. I have read his thoughtful comments many times, and we talked by phone about this as well. He's right. It's best for the story that Franny hear this speech.

This will require reworking and rewriting, the creation of a brand-new scene that will inform the rest of the book and that will need to be woven in seamlessly. And this sort of revision requires hours and hours in the chair (for me). So no yard work today, just straight revision, no chaser.

I remember when I wrote LOVE, RUBY LAVENDER, how I left out completely the scene at Miss Mattie's store where a hidden Ruby watches her grandmother leave on the bus, bound for the airport and Hawaii, and we get to see all the characters interact, and learn a lot about who they are and why they do what they do -- how the town sees Miss Eula, how Ruby's heart is breaking, and also how Miss Mattie discovers Ruby and shoos her on home.

My editor Liz said, "I think we need to see this scene -- I wonder why you left it out?"

It wasn't because I needed Ruby to do anything else (in the way that I need Franny to read Jo Ellen's letter). I just didn't want to see my character's heart break. This was one of my first lessons in learning that my characters hearts need to break on the page, not in some far-away place that the reader can't access and must imagine.

In the same way, I need to let the reader see Franny's fear and hear her parents talk, her crazy Uncle Otts pontificate, and her little brother Drew begin to withdraw from the world... this is the stuff of life. As writers, our job is to suit up and show up and plow through the middle of it, instead of tap dancing around the edges.

So. That's my charge today. You can read the full text of President Kennedy's October 22, 1962 speech, and see/hear it, here, at American Rhetoric.

As promised, here's the link to the writer-at-home interview that Kimberly Willis Holt so graciously invited me to do on her blog. Thanks again, Kimberly, friend.