Ways of Revising
by Yuly Restrepo
January 21, 2021
When I’m revising, I like to revisit whatever I’m working on in a couple of different ways. I do a couple of quick passes on the computer, and a couple on printed copies. I also do more detailed readings on the computer, where I’m exclusively looking at one aspect of the story, such as structure, point of view, or a specific character’s depiction, for example. I find that these actions allow me to approach the revision process in a fresh way each time, and to find different ways to improve whatever piece I’m working on.
This week I’m back to working on my novella/long story, whose rough draft I started over the summer, and which I recently picked up again for revision. I looked at a printed copy of the piece, which has been useful to me in the past to get a sense of the overall arc of a story, of what parts read more actively than others, and of whether a real change comes across in the reading.
In the story, a man goes missing around Christmas time, and a group of neighborhood kids decide to take it upon themselves to find him. The process of doing this reading on a printed copy showed me that one of its sections, told from the point of view of a teenage boy, had him staying in one place, passively receiving information from other characters. In the process of reading, it became clear to me that it would be far better for him to receive some information to then take it upon himself to find out the rest, so that the decision he makes about himself and his life at the end of this section feels earned by the narrative. I’m still working on this section, but this is a short excerpt:
Normally, Andrés wouldn’t worry about Crescencio, since he’s a grown man and goes out to party all the time. He doesn’t seem like the type of guy who would want anyone to get alarmed just for partying a bit too long, especially if this meant he’d have to do his walk of shame amid worried provocations from neighbors. But if Perla is worried, something must be wrong. He agrees with Marisol that the best places to ask first are where people in the neighborhood have seen him before: old man bars, chicken joints where he goes to eat his hangover consommé, and the square itself, where lots of people have seen him nursing a beer with friends or by himself.
“Why didn’t you tell my dad? Maybe he can help too,” Andrés says as the bus careens down Santa María avenue, making the rosary the driver keeps hanging from his rearview mirror sway out of control.
“He was fucking furious when I got there. I didn’t really feel like making him more furious. Plus, I don’t think he would have let you come if I had told him, and I really need help with this.”
“And Juliana’s sick, so you can’t go to her like usual.”
“Do you really want me or Juliana to go to those joints Crescencio’s always at?”
It’s a fair point. He wouldn’t want them to go to bars. The restaurants aren’t too bad, but Andrés has a hard time picturing Marisol at a fried chicken place, eating consommé with chicken hearts in it.
But those places don’t turn up anything. For starters, it’s too early for a lot of the bars to be open, and the restaurants are mostly empty at this hour. He does a couple of laps around the square, but all he manages to see is moms eating popcorn or green mango with their kids and old men passing the time, and the pigeons that fly away every time he bounds toward them. Then he remembers that Marisol said to see if Juliana’s grandpa is around, and if he might know something.
Andrés doesn’t have to look long for Mr. Esteban, but he still feels proud of finding him, like he has gotten the first step of an important mission right after all. All he had to do was ask one of the lottery vendors on the square if he’d seen Esteban Pasos, and the man had immediately pointed him to this billiards hall.