JK: Detail and Revision, Part 2
Ivan Doig, a contemporary Montana writer, once said that his favorite part of writing was revisions because that’s when he found out what the story was really about. Before I started to write, I wondered how an author could not know what their story was about until they’d written it.
After 13 novels (I just finished the 13th though it hasn’t been published yet) I understand. I start out telling the story I planned to but as I allow my characters to change and grow I realize at the end that the story is more than what I thought. Often, I discover what the story has to tell me, why it was that a particular person or event in history wouldn’t let me go until I wrote down how they affected me and our history.
With the story I just finished, A Clearing in the Wild, I thought I was writing about the only woman who was sent west from a religious colony in Bethel, Missouri, along with nine men, to the Pacific Northwest in the 1850s. I thought it was a book about courage, about what it was like for one woman to be with those men in a strange place, pregnant, with her husband but also within a culture where women were to be seen and not heard.
Since the colony had started other off shoot colonies and never included a woman as a scout, why did they do so this time? That was part of the unanswered question that began my research.
When I finished writing the book I realized it was about finding one’s voice in a community that doesn’t always recognize our uniqueness. I think we can all relate to that challenge at some time in our lives. As an adolescent I was sure I was strange and no one was like me at all and I remember feeling discounted and alone. How I came to terms with that – did I silence my voice or did I learn to embrace my differences – is part of what I think my character Emma had to face. She lived 150 years ago but we share something I think. It’s that “something” I hope my readers will discover as well. And it’s that “shared something” that helps guide my revision.
Jane Kirkpatrick's books are found at www.jkbooks.com.