8.24.2017

Casting Back

Editing material is more comforting than creating it. You can attach yourself to a rhythm that is already flowing across the page. Writers spend countless hours hunt and pecking through a scene, adding tidbits that can add up to much more vividness overall.

One great way to create stronger character continuity during the editing phase is to have your character refer to plot events that just occurred. Before starting a scene, you review what happened in the scene before it. In particular, what happened to the lead character? How would she feel afterward (i.e., how would you feel afterward)? Does that event remind her of other events that occurred earlier in the story, and how does she feel about them now?

You can stretch further than this. Did the event remind her of an event that happened before the book started? In other words, could it spur a background piece that fills our her character? Or, did the event touch upon a prominent personal characteristic, such as pride, that now has her reassessing her very self?

This process of burrowing down into the past events of the book happens because you have gotten to know your lead characters. You know how they will respond in a given situation. What you may not have included during an earlier phase of writing is how they bounce around among the bumpers (as in pinball) you have constructed for them. If Howie made a mean comment, Lynn can think about it in retrospect, turning over what he really meant by that. By bouncing off that comment, Lynn may come up with a new revelation she hadn’t considered.

That ball of thoughts, and many others that can spring from a past event, also helps to  determines the character’s attitude in the scene you are presently reviewing. Now you are not only adding bon mots during the editing process; you are making them personal to your characters.

Exercise: As you review the previous scene, think about how the plot event would affect the lead character. Write down how it would affect you. Now take the next step. Keep reading the scene and see if that reaction fits how he’s acting now. When you can, insert a few references to that past event. By the time you’re done aligning the scene with the past, you’ll also be that much further inside the character’s head.

“I'd rather tinker with a story after writing it, and then tinker some more, changing this, changing that, than have to write the story in the first place.”
—Raymond Carver

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine


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