Revision from the orchard tenders point of view

I have the wonderful luck to live in a historic home in Portland, Oregon. It’s the best preserved example of a gothic farmhouse in the area, and it has big yard which contains historic fruit trees. We have cherries, walnuts, apples, peaches, plums, and pears. I love working with trees that are probably more than 100 years old and I love having fresh fruit for pies and jams for my family. But to be honest, fruit trees are a lot of work.

aaadownloads 001When I’m taking a writing break in the summer I’ll often climb down from my treehouse and get out the old orchard ladder and spend some time on my back yard orchard. Because I don’t spray the fruit, I lose a substantial amount of the harvest to insect or disease damage. The sooner I get those blighted or undersized fruits off the tree the better. And then comes the harder task. I need to pick perfectly good fruit before it’s ripe and throw it away.

I know. My inner skin-flint cringes at the waste. But the truth is a tree will put out more fruit than it can ripen in a season. So I will go along the branches looking for clusters of 3 or more peaches, pears or apples and remove one or two from the cluster so that the remaining fruits get enough light and water and energy from the tree to ripen fully.Unknown   I hate to do it but when I’ve neglected this task I’ve come away with a crop of apples or pears that never fully ripens and the entire harvest is worthless.

This year I learned an even harder lesson. I only have 2 peach trees. It’s a challenge to grow peaches in Oregon’s cool climate, so some years I get no peaches at all or less than a dozen. But for some reason this year I got a bumper crop. I love peach pie. Lavender peach jam is a big favorite with my whole family. So I didn’t thin the peaches as aggressively as I should and my peach tree broke under the weight of the crop. The whole tree fell over–a complete loss.

imagesAnd what does this have to do with writing? I’ve learned the hard way that just because a section of my story is good and fun and beautiful doesn’t mean it belongs in the book.  My first pass in revising is of course like the first pass in orchard tending–get rid of the rotten. Cut what’s not working. I might need the help of my critique group or editor to recognize what’s not working, but once located it’s not hard to ditch spoiled fruit or lackluster prose. The tricky part is cutting what is beautiful and without fault in the service of the larger story.

Here’s an example from a story I’m still working on. It had two characters who were too strong to be in the same book. Both characters had and interesting arc and strong emotional pull. The voice of my main character at several points was overwhelmed by this second character. The result was that the book as a whole didn’t work. It was a fallen tree of a story and I didn’t know how to fix it. I pouted about this for a while. But I came to see that there was no way both of those characters would ripen on the same tree. And here is where writing books is better than tending an orchard. I wrote two books–started over with different settings and adjusted premises. I let each character develop without having to compete for reader loyalty in the same book. I’m still in the thick of working out these two stories but with a little luck and a lot of hard work, I hope to have two viable fully-ripened stories instead of one.


2 thoughts on “Revision from the orchard tenders point of view

  1. Jessica S

    Ugh. I know exactly how you feel. I just wrote a section for my eBook that, while I love how it turned out, it really doesn’t fit the tone of the rest of the book. So, I’m either going to have to go back through and flesh out a few other parts of the book, or I’m going to have to take out what I just wrote. Drat and double drat.

    By the way, thanks for sharing about the historic home you live in. My own home was built in 1873, and our daughter makes the seventh generation of the same family to live there. Ironically, my husband’s father was adopted into the family, but I’m blood-related to the original family, so where they thought the bloodline would die with my husband’s grandfather (even though the name would live on through his adopted son, and he was related through marriage), it’s still on the property. How’s that for a twist in generations? By the way, my husband and I are NOT blood related (in case I explained that all wrong — LOL).

    1. Rosanne Parry Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Jessica! It is regrettable that writing fiction can’t be made more efficient. But as my agent is often reminding me, art is supposed to take time in the making. Good luck with your ebook. I hope you’re satisfied with it in the end.

      I’m a newcomer to this house. It’s more than 100 years old but we’ve only been here for ten. It’s a lot of work to look after an older place but I do love it. How wonderful to have a home that’s such a legacy!

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