Over the last four weeks, you’ve written a new outline, rewritten the new beginning of your manuscript, explored the counter-arguments in your story, and your hero has made an irrevocable decision. Now it’s time to rewrite the middle.
Your hero’s entered a brave new world. He’s made a decision he can’t go back on, and everything he thought he understood about the world is all new again.
Start with Some Questions
Before you dig into this week’s rewriting, ask these questions of your story and your hero.
- How has the hero’s world changed as a consequence of the decision he’s made to go forward and solve the story-plight?
- How has his decision raised the stakes?
- How has he grown or changed already since the beginning of the story?
- How are your worthy and nefarious villains standing in his way and keeping him from what he wants?
- How has his problem been altered since the story began?
I don’t know about you, but my first drafts are littered with redundancies. “Did I mention that so-and-so is the grandson of such-and-such? Better do it here, just to be sure.”
It’s inevitable: we repeat ourselves. And this gets tiresome. Really tiresome. Hugely tiresome.
But redundancies are not just a sign of lazy writing, they also pull the reader out of the story by interrupting the narrative flow with information the reader already has.
Redundancies can occur at the level of rehashing story information (did I mention such-and-such’s grandson?), or by banging on the same theme, or by repeated use of a word or phrase within close proximity of other occurrences of that word or phrase.
When you read your work out loud, you can catch most of these redundancies and find ways to remove them.
But let’s look at a different sort of problem: how to keep exposition from becoming redundant. For example, a new character needs to relay information the reader’s already heard to a second character the reader has already met. How do you explore the second character’s reaction at hearing the news, without the reader meeting that second character all over again, and without the reader having to hear that information all over again?
This is where it’s perfectly acceptable to break the “Show, Don’t Tell” rule. The narrator tells the reader, “Character A told the story to Character B,” shows the second character’s response, and on we go.
Another option is to dramatize the telling from the new perspective of the new character. This can be used to highlight important information about the characters’ relationships to each other, or their differing relationship to this information.
If you’re curious about the many different ways that such a problem can be solved, there’s no end of solutions you can find.
Another problem is structural redundancy. Sometimes, you can play the same beat over and over again, through different situations, and the redundancy isn’t at the level of words or situations, but at the level of tension. The story isn’t building because the stakes aren’t being raised. The same beats are playing over and over again, for the same stakes. This is likely a structural problem and can be solved by recognizing the redundancy, and then revisiting the story to see where the work can be tightened by removing these redundant beats at the plot-level.
If your “writer’s voice” didn’t emerge in the first draft, it begins to do so in the rewrite.
We don’t often think about our own voice. I, myself, cringe when I hear it out loud, played back from a voice mail message or greeting. “Do I really sound like that?”
The voice on the page is the same way. Sometimes you want to sound VERY IMPRESSIVE. Other times, you want to tweak the equalizer: “Gimme a little funky bass, DJ!” But your naked voice can make you feel… well, naked. So as we work on our rewrite, sometimes we lose touch with the idea that trusting in our story is enough.
As you strip down your prose, your clear, authoritative voice emerges. It’s an act of courage to edit writing you liked and kill your darlings. As you cut a word here and a word there, clearer lines and a clearer voice emerge. But to do this requires a ruthlessness that you might have held at arm’s length in the first draft.
Every book is different, and every writer works at his own pace. A writer of my acquaintance recently lamented about his current work-in-progress: “Whoever said, ‘Just write 500 words a day,’ never tried it!”
It’s easy to get lost in the rewrite. This is why I recommended the new outline and specific guideposts and milestones, so that getting lost is less likely to happen. But you’re taking a second pass through your story and developing a different set of tools in order to explore your story more specifically. There are bound to be missteps along the way.
The important thing isn’t how fast your rewrite is going, but that you are developing an approach to the rewrite that satisfies your integrity and vision. Rewriting is methodical work. It takes reflection and often several passes to get your story to where it wants to be.
Rules Versus Principles
Creativity isn’t reducible to a set of rules. As much as I and an entire industry of online creative-writing gurus and MFA-Creative Writing professors might insist that there’s an immutable step-by-step approach to the rewrite process, there’s no such thing.
But there are principles that can help you develop your own process.
There are some basic steps in common to all rewrites, but there’s nothing wrong with shuffling the order of those steps.
If you try to quantify a set of rules, you’re likely to get stuck, because the desire to write is the desire to evolve, to grow and change. Codifying a stagnant set of rules is the antithesis to evolution, growth, and change.
Every rewrite experience is different, even for the same author. It’s a process of inquiring into the essence of a visionary experience that always seems just out of reach, like the fading memory of a dream in the morning. If you try to grab it and wrestle it into a rigid set of rules, you strangle it. When you open yourself up to the underlying principles, the story leads you to a deeper understanding of its own nature.
So don’t be afraid to step back and revisit those basic story principles. Don’t be afraid to return to your story plight. Feel free to look back on your outline. Your idea of your story is never the whole story. The rewrite is the process of shedding your ideas and arriving at the actual story. Stay with it, show up, honor the principles even as you develop your own process, and let the story be more important than the outcome.
Good luck again this week! I’ll see you next time!
Well, this is it, the official countdown has begun! Less than SEVEN WEEKS until The Wedding of Eithne publishes on March 28!
I’m so excited!
Check out the new book website, you might find some special opportunities there!
And please, take a moment to
share the book website and spread the word!
Three clicks can make all the difference!