7.07.2016

Cherry Picking

Writing a novel entails working through a number of drafts. After the first draft, in particular, you emerge with a number of large-scale issues that you need to resolve. Sometimes your knowledge of your protagonist has grown more firm during the course of writing, and now some of the earlier scenes need to be amended. Sometimes a train of events ends up where you didn’t expect early on, and all of those scenes need to be rejiggered to fall in line.

If the changes are extensive enough, you may decide that it would be so hard to rework the existing scene, you decide to write an entirely new one. That way your evolved ideas will have free rein. What happens to the dated scene? You reviewed it, found it not right anymore. So is the file destined to be shunted into a folder labeled “1st draft” or the like? Chances are, you will never open it again.

When that happens, you run the risk of discarding individual touches of brilliance: a nice turn of phrase or a lucid description. It’s true that such pieces will not work in your redrawn scene. But why not think longer-term? Could they slot into another scene in the novel? Could that a stinging line of dialogue be given to another character?

You should review such scenes with the question: is this site-specific or not? Certain parts of your text must change if your character or plot line has headed in another direction. If the characters are talking about a plot point you have decided to drop, the conversation must be dropped. Other pieces are unaffected, though, either because they exist on a lofty plane of ideas (“A relaxing round of meditation wasn’t going to fix the ____”) or because they are so specific (“The leaves were jammed so tight in the gutter, he had to dig like a crab to pull some out”), they can be repurposed.

A book is an agglomeration of nuggets you prize. Many times a well-crafted sentence needs to be regarded in isolation from everything around it. If you merely shifted a few words, the core of what pleased you might be retained. You find another context and pop in the piece. It still will sparkle in its new place.

Exercise: You don’t have to find new places right away. You can set such sentences or passages aside in a file. Maybe call it “Assorted ideas.” The key is to review it regularly, as you do with your notes. Soon enough the sentence will jump out at you; you know a perfect place where it would fit. If all else fails, you can always save them for your next book.

“Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.”
—Carl Friedrich Gauss

Copyright @ 2016, John Paine

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