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.

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