Monday, September 29, 2008

Revision Method Madness

I think the worst of the ragweed might almost be sort of over. I was able to get outside this weekend for the Greek Food Festival at the big Greek Orthodox Church. The church members make the food, so it's basically Greek home cooking on a massive scale, and I must say that whoever invented baklava was divinely inspired.

I also managed to get about 20 pages rewritten, and so far I think applying the notecard and scene-by-scene outline methodology to revisions has been a huge success. The main benefit is that it separates the scenes themselves from the words that make up those scenes. That helps in several ways. For one, it's a lot easier to tell if there are too many scenes that hit the same story notes or that serve the same story purpose when you look at sentences on index cards than when you read the actual scenes. I realized in this book that half my scenes in the middle of the book were really about the same thing. They just all took different forms. The scenes themselves seemed very different, but once I wrote down the gist of what the scene was about, I realized I'd been repeating myself. Then it's a lot easier to throw out a notecard with a sentence on it when you realize that the scene doesn't need to be there than to throw out the scene itself. The scene itself may be a good scene -- it could have all kinds of action, tension, conflict and emotion -- but it might not need to be there, and it's very difficult to look at a good scene and then throw it out. But if you look at that sentence on the notecard and realize that the scene doesn't need to be in the book, it's easier to toss it aside.

But where I think it's really helping is in getting away from the scenes on the page for rewriting. When I'm revising by looking at the manuscript, the tendency is to just make what's there better. For a hypothetical example, say I've got a scene in which the hero is being pursued by the bad guys, and he makes a narrow escape. If I'm doing revisions by going through the manuscript and I don't think that scene works, I'm probably going to make it a better scene about running away and making a narrow escape. There may be more obstacles to his escape and he may come closer to being caught. He may even learn something about the villain that moves the plot forward or creates an additional complication. But running away and narrow escape may not be what the book needs at this point, and it's easier to see that when I just look at the main point of the scene instead of at the words. Looking at that main point, I may realize that what the book needs is for the hero to stand and fight instead of running, or maybe even that he should be caught. Or, to get really radical, it might not even be time for him to go anywhere near the bad guys and he should be doing something proactive on his own instead of running away from bad guys.

Here's how I'm working the process right now: First, I went through the whole book and made a card for each scene, writing a sentence or two to describe the gist of the scene. I could already tell that I had a lot of redundant scenes just from doing that, so I started throwing out cards, replotted the middle, and then made new cards for new scenes. Then I went through those cards and analyzed each scene, figuring out what the main story question for the scene was (what I hope will keep readers turning the pages), my purpose for having the scene in the book, what the primary scene character's objective is and what the stakes are. If I can't answer those questions, I have to reconsider the scene. Then on the back of each card, I wrote in a different ink color what the main emotional component for the scene should be -- for both what the characters are going through and for what I want the audience to feel. I had to take a lot of breaks during that phase because when you've been doing that kind of deep analysis for a while, the temptation is to get lazy about it or not care.

Next, I made a detailed scene-by-scene outline, with a short paragraph for each scene on the major events, followed by a short paragraph on the emotional through-line. During this, I reorganized some scenes to get a better through-line, deleted scenes and added scenes that occurred to me based on the outline flow. I also tried to group the scenes into arcs to get a sense of rising and falling action. I even did a little chart to show the high and low points of the book to make sure there was a lot of mood variety. Once I was happy with how the big picture of the book worked, I went to the manuscript, chopping out the deleted scenes (whimper) and writing new scenes. After I'm through with that major surgery, I'll do a pass through the whole book to make sure the new parts mesh with the old parts.

I've seen a lot of writers advocate doing a really fast draft, just blowing through the initial draft to capture all that energy, but I've found that my biggest weakness as a writer is impatience, so the more processes I put in place to slow me down and make me think, the better I seem to do. I'm hoping that doing it from square one will mean fewer rewrites and revisions later, so that the overall process of writing the book from start to finish will be faster, even if the first draft takes me a little longer.

Now, a big TV update (being the TV Guide service): The season premiere for Chuck is tonight. That is such a fun show that manages to spoof spy shows even while being a pretty good spy show. Too bad it's opposite the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I'm not sure which one I will watch and which I'll tape to watch later. And then the season premiere of Life is on after Heroes, with another episode on Friday night. Pushing Daisies starts up again on Wednesday, and then I think my fall season will be complete. I may have to get more videotape because it seems like most of my TV viewing is either opposite something else I watch or on a night when I'm out. Someday I may splurge on getting the converter box with DVR (and maybe even the High-Def service to go with my HD TV) from my cable company, but I'd have to sell a book or two first. Which means I'd better quit playing online and do some work.

1 comment:

Carradee said...

*perks up*

Thanks for describing that aspect to your writing process! It sounds like it's just what I need to do for my work when I finish this last chapter.

Again, thank you. :-)