Monday, October 22, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 6

Step 6 is optional.

IF you have the time, and IF you are not thoroughly ready to be done with the scene by now, read over your gussied-up version and make note of all the nouns. How many are concrete nouns-- things you can touch-- and how many are abstract concepts? In strong writing, concrete nouns > abstract nouns.

Then, if you can bear to, do the same exercise to check your verbs. How many weak verbs do you have? How many forms of to be? How many subjunctives? How much passive voice? Change every verb you possibly can to a strong verb that shows action. So, he was standing by the gate becomes he stood by the gate.

Again, this step is optional, since you'll probably do a final line edit once the whole rewrite is complete.

And there you have it! Revising a scene in 6 mind-bogglingly complicated steps!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 5

Now that you've built a solid foundation for the scene, it's time to pretty it up. You can start by incorporating the good bits from your first draft version into this version. Then just keep polishing until it's smooth.

This step is the quickest to describe, but the hardest to give a time estimate for. It takes as long as it takes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 4

This step is mostly reading and thinking, with a little cut and paste thrown in for fun.

First, read over the rough draft of the scene you did in Step 3. Do your best to ignore the clunkiness of the language (remember, we're not worrying about making it sound good yet), and focus on structure and flow. Anything need to be shifted around? Does it feel like there's a missing paragraph somewhere? Fix that now.

Then, open up your first draft version of the scene, and at long last, read it. If you do not immediately notice that the new version is better in all ways except sentence flow and word choice, then this whole process is probably not for you. But the first draft probably has a lot of good stuff in it, too-- stuff you want to salvage and use. So copy and paste any lines or passages that make you say, "Damn, that's good. I forgot I wrote that."

Again, this is a quick step. Probably not more than half an hour.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 3

I meant to write this post yesterday, but I had an article deadline breathing down my neck and a post-flu-shot Husband languishing in abject misery on the couch.


Step 3:

In this step you start at the beginning of the outline you made in Step 2 and build the scene sentence by sentence. I literally delete each line of the outline once I've incorporated in into the scene (as always, make sure to save an intact copy of the outline!), so the scene grows down the page as the outline shrinks line by line. It's more satisfying that way.

Some notes in the outlines might require only a few words of description or clue-dropping in the story, while some might generate a few paragraphs of action or introspection. Add attributives and incidental action around the completed dialogue when you come to it.

At this stage, you are not worrying about making it sound good. Think of it as an advanced version of the outline.

Since you are not worrying about making it sound good, and you are not having to stop to think of what comes next, this really shouldn't take more than an hour, unless it is either a very long scene or you are a very distractible person.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 2

Step 2 is to take the results of all the lists and exercises and freewrites of Step 1 and turn them into an outline for the scene. Note that there is no writing at all involved in this step; it's all cut and paste.

As always, open a blank document. Copy and paste your CUT TO's for the scene into the document. This gives you the bones of the scene. Now, add more and more meat to those bones. Paste in your chunks of edited dialogue where they belong in the scene, your steps toward and away from your goal, your setting details, backstory/worldbuilding/character development details, and your inner turning point moments. Just think through where these things belong in the scene, and drop them where they go. I would be shocked if this took you more than half an hour.

When you are done, you will have close to a thousand words of everything that needs to appear in the scene, in the order that you need to mention it. Good stuff.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revising a Scene: Step 1

I thought it could be helpful-- or at the very least amusing-- to detail the process I've been using so far to revise the key scenes. Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised to learn it is a hilariously convoluted process. But it seems to be working for me so far, and it might work for you too if you're finding the prospect of rewriting overwhelming and you enjoy breaking tasks down into millions of tiny steps.

So, without further ado, Step 1:

This step sounds like a lot of work, but most individual mini-steps can be accomplished in less than 10 minutes. This makes it a great step to do on the first day of the scene rewrite, because you feel like you've accomplished so much.

The mini-steps:

1) Pull out the scene cards for the scene, and look them over, reminding yourself of the basic facts: who and what is in it, where and when it takes place, what happens, and how it moves the plot forward.

2) Do CUT TO's for the scene.  Because you are insane, you have already done CUT TO's for each character, taking 1-2 snapshots of him or her per scene. Open up the CUT TO files for each character that appears in the scene, and copy and paste the snapshots for this scene. Then fill in the rest. Begin with "We open with..." and walk yourself image by image through the scene, like a movie playing with no sound. Where does the camera need to cut to something else? What do you need to show? If it's a talky scene without a lot of action, there might be only a few CUT TO's.

3) This one comes from Donald Maass: define your POV character's goal for the scene. What does she want? What is she trying to accomplish here? If you're unclear about the point of the scene, freewrite about it for 5-10 minutes to get at the heart of it. I haven't had to do this yet, since I'm working on key scenes that I've thought through quite a bit, but I'm sure I'll have to eventually.

Once you have the goal, work out three hints that she's going to get what she wants, and three reasons why she won't.

4) This one Maass mentions in both Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook and The Fire in Fiction, so it must be pretty important: determine the inner turning point of the scene. Each scene needs to change your main character in some way, so pinpoint the moment at which that change occurs. Is it because of something that happens? Something that someone says to her? Some revelation she reaches through introspection?

One you've pinpointed the inner turning point, freewrite for 2-3 minutes on how the character feels about things or sees herself before this moment, and then write for 2-3 more minutes on how she feels after it.

5) Come up with five interesting details about the setting, the weather, whatever. If you don't have a clear picture of the setting, freewrite on it for 5-10 minutes first and then pick out the five most interesting details.

6) Open up your original version of the scene. DO NOT READ IT. Not yet. Just copy and paste all the dialogue into a new document, and do the dialogue exercise described in the post below.

7) Open one last blank document, and make notes on any worldbuilding details you need to include, any clues you need to drop, backstory facts that belong here, or opportunities for your characters to act like themselves in this scene.

And there you have it. I told you it sounds like a lot. But the whole process has yet to take me more than two hours, including breaks between each step to get a beverage or check my e-mail.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Cool Dialogue Exercise

Week two of the rewrite is going well. I haven't made a whole lot of progress on line editing the First Encounter, but I'm where I wanted to be with the Opening.

I'll post more at length about the rewriting process when I have the energy (my allergies are acting up and I had a horrid night's sleep last night), but for now I want to share this amazing dialogue exercise, courtesy of The Fire in Fiction by  Donald Maass (who else? the man is a fairy godmother, I'm tellin' ya.).

First, cut and paste a block of dialogue into a new document. Strip away all the attributives and action, so that you are left with nothing but two (or more, depending on the scene) disembodied voices speaking back and forth. Save.

Then, open up a new document and rewrite the dialogue as an exchange of insults. The same information needs to be conveyed in the lines-- they just need to be taking pot shots at each other with everything they say.

Then open up yet another document and rewrite again, this time in lines of no more than five words. One-two, one-two rhythm.

In still another document, rewrite the dialogue as a monologue delivered by one character to the other, who gestures but doesn't speak.

Finally, go back to the first, stripped down version of the dialogue and rewrite it, incorporating the best from the other three steps. The rewrite will probably be much stronger, cleaner, and tighter than the original.

I've done this twice, and it's truly amazing. The insult exercise punches up the conflict, the short lines exercise helps with pacing, and the monologue exercise helps you cut anything "chatty" and unnecessary. It sounds like a lot when I describe it, but each step moves quickly. Plus, it's fun! The insult one is a hoot.

Give it a try if you've got a block of dialogue that's feeling flat or infodump-y.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

First Week

Sorry for the silence this week. I've been working on the scene every day, but have definitely felt my motivation and focus slip, and I'm not as far along as I wanted to be by Sunday morning. I have a completed first run at the scene, but it's still pretty clunky and needs a line edit. It doesn't help that the scene is long (2,800 words) and that my two long writing days aren't happening this week due to The Son's school vacation. And my mother-in-law broke a bone in her back (slipping on our treacherous walkway steps, ugh), so I need to go help her out this afternoon instead of writing.

I'm tutoring tonight, but after that I should have 1.5-2 hours. I'll get as much done as I can. Tomorrow I'll start work on revising the Opening, but since it's a shorter scene and needs a lot less work than the others, I think I can "double up" for a few days, getting the Opening stuff done first.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Revision: Phase Two

New month, new goals, new phase!

Phase two will last nine weeks, and (assuming I stay on schedule) will take me to Dec. 3. I will be rewriting the key scenes at a rate of one per week, which is a very slow rate indeed. I'm following the rewrite model from The Weekend Novelist Re-Writes the Novel: rewriting the key scenes slowly and methodically, giving yourself a solid structure to build on, and then filling in the rest at a much quicker rate. This is also how he recommends writing the first draft, which if you've been hanging around here for a while you'll know didn't work out so well for me. But it seems to make a lot of sense for a rewrite, so I'm trying it. This could all go out the window if it paralyzes me.

The classic six key scenes from screenwriting structure are:

Opening-- first scene
Plot Point One-- end of Act I
Mid-Point-- some catastrophe in the exact middle of the story
Plot Point Two-- ends Act II
Climax-- very near the end
Closing-- duh

In addition to these, Robert J. Ray recommends including the First Encounter between your protagonist and the principal antagonist as a key scene, and beginning your rewrite with that scene. He also recommends having that scene as early in the book as you logically can, so I'm very pleased that my First Encounter is in scene #2.

So the big six, plus the First Encounter, plus I have two climaxes, so that's eight scenes in eight weeks. The ninth week is vacation: this year, I am taking the week before Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas off from writing. I'm trying to treat this more like a job, and if this was my real, paying job, I'd take those two weeks as vacation days. I host both holidays at my house, plus The Son's birthday is right before Thanksgiving so I'm dealing with putting on a party too, and I just never get anything done.

Today I start work on the First Encounter scene. I'm making this up as I go along, but I'm planning to do two days of prep, four days of writing, and one day of editing.

Goals for today (with time estimates):

1) read the first draft version of the scene. (10 minutes)
2) look over the scene cards for the scene, adding any notes. (10 minutes)
3) make a scene sheet of things that won't fit on the index cards--check GMC, problem/solution chains, worldbuilding details, CUT TO's. (30 minutes)
4) scene freewrite.  (30 minutes)
5) CUT TO's for scene (30 minutes)