Revision steps and concerns
I have spent the past week revising pages in For Want of a Father that show main character Cordelia arriving in 1859 Denver. In the original Nano manuscript, I had her check into a hotel. Then I got worried. Were there hotels in Denver on or about June 1, 1859? I made several online searches and poured over my personal research library of western history as well as the public library’s stacks. One reference indicated there were about twenty houses in Denver at the time. Another mentioned the first newspaper being published in April, 1859, but I could find nothing on hotels. After complaining to writer friends about this lack of information, someone said, “It’s fiction. If you want a hotel, make one up.” So I did.
The trouble with details
There was little description of the hotel in the first draft. Cordelia got a room and had a pitcher of water delivered so she could wash off the grime from her twelve-day stagecoach journey. The writer in me said, “You need more details,” so I added them.
Cordelia reacts to her hotel room:
When I opened the door to the cramped cubicle, my nose was assaulted by the stench of tobacco, whiskey, and sweat. Smoke stung my eyes. Seeing what appeared to be a window on the outside wall, I crossed to it, pushed the wooden slat open, propping it with a board and pressing my face close to the opening, filling my lung with fresh air. Hoping the room would air out, I stepped away from the window and took in the furnishings. A bed of sorts made of board slats on top of nail kegs stood along one wall. On inspection of the mattress, I concluded it was straw stuffed into a stained cotton ticking. The two woolen blankets smelled of tobacco and sweat but seemed otherwise clean.
Be careful what you describe
For a short time, I was proud of my description. It sounded like the kind of accommodations Cordelia might find in a new, rough mining town. Then I got worried. Would Cordelia sleep here? Several already written scenes depended on her doing that. Obviously, I needed to give her a good enough reason to stay in spite of the unsavory surroundings, so I attempted to do that.
Cordelia struggles with staying:
My impulse was to leave, but where would I go? This was a new mining town. Other accommodations might be worse. I did not know Miz Wilma’s situation, and I did not want to inconvenience those who were caring for her. Best to stay here. It was only for one night.
Now that I’m reading the motive for staying again, it doesn’t seem good enough. But then this is only the second revision. A few weeks ago, a new writer asked, “How many times do you revise a novel?”
Answer: I revise as long as each reading of a scene gives me a deeper understanding of character and better ways of presenting the story. The end of the process does not come with a number but with a feeling that I have told the story to the best of my ability.