Revising – Starting At The Top
The Only Direction is Down – And That’s Okay
Now, our brave writer perches precariously on a mountainous TO DO list.
And she weighs two choices. On the one hand, she might grow wings and soar away to find another work. Or, she can take off her rose-colored glasses and start checking off the TO DO list. With all her heart she prays that, at the end, the story on paper will resemble the story in her head.
What did I do?
Tempting though spreading my wings was, I tucked them away. With butterflies roaring about my tummy I stared at that huge mountain, dreading what I must do.
Except…where to start?
With a million ways to divide it up, I might start with easy ones and save the hard ones for later. Another way might involve fixing single scene problems first, or maybe starting with problems with tendrils in many scenes.
Experience has taught me if I solve problems which impact many scenes, at least some scenes might actually go away, or if not, solving the big problems might erase the little problems. With that in mind, I elected to solve the multi-scene problems, with 45 issues touching two or more scenes.
But multi-scene problems come all shapes and sizes. Some involved picking a name or term without any fear of touching any other scene. That included things like naming the University’s city, or referring to the MC’s sword instructor with the title Sergeant-at-Arms and not Master-of-the-Sword.
Others required skill. One comment addressed city descriptions. Or, more to the point, lack of description left characters working against a blue screen, with no chance of drawing readers into their experience.
Why? Because I’d no idea where these characters lived. That led to pouring over endless pictures of cities and towns. In time contrasts caught my eye — thatched roofs instead of slate or tile, narrow dirt lanes with open sewers and not broad, cobble stone boulevards, decaying wooden walls in place of brick or stone. Once I understood, I sought out opportunities to show these ideas. With scene openings I start by establishing the setting, so much of this detail landed there. And, where possible, I worked in walls and streets when it added to the verisimilitude.
And several scenes attracted threads from other scenes like magnets. My Prologue proved a foreshadowing engine, if such a thing exists. But how would I add all this foreshadowing in without destroying the original scene’s look and flow? I couldn’t. And I wound up heavily rewriting the scene.
And that raises another question. The degree to which I should rewrite as opposed to wedging stuff in? Changes to city names requires no particular skill, but writing in other senses beyond sight, such as hearing, or smell, requires judgment and a light touch, otherwise I may transform the scene to a chopped up, disconnected list of things with no relationship to each other.
But, in all honesty, my first drafts rarely resemble beauty incarnate. Neither do they flow effortlessly, nor do they soar to the heavens. They race along one moment, then bounce in herky-jerky fashion over rough text the next. And I’m still in the early stages, with scene structure and characterization to come. For that reason, I’ve established an editing step to smooth things out, but that’s the subject of another post. In other words…find a place and wedge it in.
With all this in mind, I worked through the list, filling plot holes as I went. With 45 issues, I changed various scenes 225 times, adding 4,500 words to the story, bringing it beyond 52.000. With no word count in mind, I’ll save total words worry for the future.
But, with the way of things, the words didn’t fall evenly through the story. Especially with more foreshadowing and world building, Part One received half the new words, with Parts Two and Four splitting much of the remainder. All this conspired to change the story shape.
And, like as not, fixing the single scenes will change the proportions further. But, in what direction? How exciting.
Next time I’ll discuss fixing single scenes.