Those Pesky Revisions

Once in a while I come across a new writer asking what to do now that he’s finished his novel and is ready to get an agent. As the conversation flows I hear the optimistic assumption that even though this process will take time, it will end well. Left unsaid is the ending—the book will be published to blushingly great acclaim. I seem to come across these discussions when I’m in the deepest slough of revision. Right now I’m on the third rewrite for my current WIP (not to mention all the many drafts I did before I naively thought it was finished). It came back from my agent with lots of compliments on certain parts of it but not the first hundred pages.

“Get rid of the BOGSATs,” she wrote.

BOGSAT? This was new to me, so I had to ask. What is a BOGSAT? It’s embarrassing that I didn’t know what it refers to because I’m certainly guilty of having a lot of BOGSATs in the first third of the book. For those of you who know what I’m talking about, you can stop reading here. You know what follows.

BOGSAT refers to Bunch Of Guys Sitting Around Talking. In other words, too much talk, not enough action. In my case, the people sitting around talking were mostly women, the main character’s mother and sisters, and occasionally the MC and her best friend. One of the themes of the book is female relationships, and families. Nevertheless, respecting my agent’s judgment as I do, I set about removing the BOGSATs, and this is where it gets interesting.

What happens in place of talking? Action, of course. As I stripped out a stretch of dialogue I held onto the specific information that needed to be delivered. In one scene, it’s important for Ginny to learn that the parents of two children under the care of the social services agency where she works have been arguing about money. If her co-worker can’t tell her this and ask for her advice, how does Ginny find out there is a money issue in the family? She catches a glimpse of the husband wearing a coat that he can’t possibly afford. How does she know this? Her sister sees it, drools over it, and tells her sister how much it probably cost. Her sister wants one. That took care of one scene, about five pages in the first hundred. On to the next.

Ginny is worried about something from her teen years becoming public. It’s linked to an event long forgotten, or so she thinks. At a celebration of life for an acquaintance, the man leading the program blurts out the deceased’s role in the event. Ginny wonders how long her secret can last.

In a grocery store she can’t simply stop and chat with someone to elicit information. Hmm. She spots an out of town reporter who has been investigating the event of concern to Ginny stopping people as they come out of the store. She notices who rebuffs him, who ignores him, and whom he ignores. The chief has told her about him, and she wonders just how much he’s uncovered. She soon finds out. The reporter wasn’t in the earlier version. He appeared only as the author of an article. Now he’s on the ground, poking around, making Ginny nervous. She’s keeping track of him.

Removing dialogue does more than eliminate the “talkiness” in the ms. It means I have to use the other characters differently, use Ginny differently, uncover little bits I hadn’t thought about before. Getting rid of the BOGSATs is changing the story little by little. Ginny Means will still be who she is doing what she does, but how she interacts with other characters is becoming different. There is a place for the BOGSAT, but it’s not in the first third of my book.