Melanie Spiller and Coloratura Consulting

Escapades in Early Music, Writing, and Editing


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Round Two of my Hildegard von Bingen novel is underway, and simultaneously (for reasons of pure avoidance), so is the travel guide to Things Hildegardian.

Thinking about how I will revise each chapter is fun. I went through and put a story arc on each fictional chapter (as I’d threatened to do in The Story Arc) and now I can see the slow points. I highlighted them in the outlines. I can focus on whether to add some action, change direction or tone, or just lop off the slow bits.

In the first chapter, it was pretty easy to lop off the beginning right after the second slow point. The lopped bits provided some context for the scene, but they didn’t really further the story much beyond introducing the characters and their location in time and place. The characters can introduce themselves during the less slow parts. See? That wasn’t so bad.

But all that reckless abandon and lopping away caused a dilemma. You see, I’d used the early part of that first chapter to show something about life in the Middle Ages within a convent, things my early readers had trouble understanding without a little help (oh, those pesky modern sensibilities!). Now I’ve got to find some clever way to put those little snippets of facts into the action. Someone can coyly say “oh she’s one of the reluctant nuns,” I suppose, and things of that nature.

Some of that knowledge of the 12th century needs to be in place for the second chapter to go smoothly. So there I sat, looking at Chapter Two as if it were a three-headed monster that had swooped up from under the davenport.

I turned my attention to the travel guide. I thought this would be easy—after all, I’m changing it to a memoir with an appendix full of directions for how to get there. Initially, it wasn’t hard, I plopped the directions into an appendix and then massaged the memoir-style stuff to flow nicely. But then I encountered the interesting tidbits about non-Hildegard things to see in the town. These are interesting! I can’t just lop them off! I can’t make another chapter or appendix for non-Hildegard things, can I? I mean, the memoir must include all the non-Hildegard things I did or it’s not the whole experience.

This led to the horrible question: Does it really have to be accurate? In other words, will anyone really mind if I go out of order, combine several trips into one, skip bits that I think won’t be interesting or add off-topic bits because they’re interesting or funny? (Like the fifteen-foot tall foot and ankle that I encountered outside a library in Mainz. Wouldn’t you be sad if that were missing?)

In the Travel Guide, the feedback of my readers was that the personal vignettes were the best parts. So my excursions around the town, Hildegardian or otherwise, are of interest, right? I mean the theme of the whole book is Hildegard and I plan to teach about her life as I go, but a memoir doesn’t need to be completely focused, does it? Shouldn’t it ramble into my own experience rather more than not?

And the fiction book, well, it’s fiction even though it’s based on history. I want to teach the facts, but it isn’t, after all, an academic exercise. So I have to snuggle the facts in there with the more entertaining aspects of the story. Can I use this technique in the non-fiction book?

I don’t know. I think I’ll go “revise” a closet or something. It’s gotta be easier.

Written by Melanie Spiller

May 24, 2011 at 11:06 am

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