5.31.2016

Restart Fresh

We all fall in love with our own words. All that self-confidence becomes a disadvantage, however, when you need to revise a manuscript. You may have shown it to friends, or your writers group, or an editor. They have pointed out faults in plot logic, pallid characters, and the like. You agree with their assessments. You set forth to correct the problems.

Yet soon enough you find yourself ensnared in the web of your already written words. You were trying to look for what to fix, but before you know it, you’ve read 15 pages. You’ve only tweaked the odd phrase here and there. But what about those problems that were pointed out to you? Do you think tweaking addressed them?

When you are making significant revisions, you have to stay clear of your already constructed matrix. That copy is acting as a drag on your imagination. One useful technique is to start with a fresh page, with the old stuff out of sight. First of all, read the scene, reminding yourself of exactly what happens. Then write down a list of the perceived problems that you want to address in the new draft. Let’s say Bob feels too mechanical, merely a plot engine driving a plot line forward. That’s the issue to address.

Write down how you are going to get more inside his skin. Say, this time Bob is going to be extremely reluctant to perform the plot task. How are you going to show his reluctance? What does he say to other characters before, during, and after the event? Now go ahead and write that scene—still keeping that old material to the side. You can sketch out from your memory certain sights, etc., from that draft, but write it free first. Bob is reluctant: he does it like this. . . .

You haven’t lost anything from the old draft. You can always check it after you finish and then add back in all the good parts. In the process you may find you have to throw out a certain amount of material. Is that a problem? You had to accomplish a large goal, so you knew old stuff would have to come out anyway. Yet this way you have addressed the large issue squarely, and you’ve taken a large new step forward.

Exercise: Read the scene you want to change. Then start fresh with the new idea you want to implement. Just write out a skein of words that addresses that problem. After you’re finished, you may find that the block of text forms a new core for the scene, and a great deal of what you’ve already written coalesces just fine around the new conception.

“An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmaster of ever afterwards.”
—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine




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