Monday, January 21, 2008

For rewriters

Today's post is for anybody who is rewriting a work of fiction. I'll see the rest of you in the Comments, with or without Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and the revolver.

Rewriting. . .

This may be tough for beginners. If you find it so, please don't let it intimidate you. If it seems too advanced, put it aside for now. Maybe you'll find it useful at another time, once you've built up a bit more experience and confidence. You can still do very good work without knowing or doing any of this.

If you're proceeding, please read this carefully.

This is by no means a complete look at rewriting. This is just one part of the process, but it's a technique that covers a lot of ground. It is not intended for use in first drafts. Use this technique when you have a full draft, or a good-sized chunk of story to work with. You can also use it when you have a nagging feeling that something's missing from your manuscript, but you're having a hard time figuring out what that might be.

Let's get started.

Let's take your manuscript in hand and see what we find. . .

Start with your first scene. Look at the beginning of that scene, at the moment when your point-of-view character enters that scene. What emotion is she feeling? Identify it, and write it down. Use simple words, like happy, sad, mad, scared, sentimental, nostalgic, depressed, excited, etc.

Now skip to the end of the scene. What emotion is she or he feeling now?

Is there any difference between the emotions at the start and at the end? That's what you're looking for--a shift in "feeling" during the scene. If no such shift occurs--if your character seems to be feeling exactly the same at the end as at the beginning, then you can be pretty sure that nothing meaningful has actually happened in that scene. Either that, or something has happened, but for some reason your character didn't react to it.

When nothing happens in a scene that is meaningful enough to cause a shift of emotion,, it is very likely because the scene lacks one or more of the following elements: action, conflict, and/or surprise.

Check your scenes to see if they lack any of those elements.

If they do, make a note of it, so you can go back and rewrite those scenes to add those missing elements. When you do that, you'll also create the missing emotional shift.

And that's it. There are many other aspects of rewriting, but this is one way to help you bring your book to more vigorous life.

Here are some questions you may still have:

How big a shift in emotions does there need to be?

Depends. Big surprises, action, or conflict will probably result in big shifts in emotion. But not every scene will play at that fever pitch, nor should it. Emotions can shift anywhere up and down the scale from None to Melodrama. The important thing is that they do shift, either to some degree of "more positive," or to some degree of "more negative," or to a different emotion entirely.

Does every single scene have to do this?

Depends, but I'd err more on the side of doing it in every scene than in not doing it. Remember that the emotional shifts can be subtle. You're not planting an earthquake in every scene.


What will happen to your manuscript if you doctor your scenes in these ways?

It will turn into a more lively, more entertaining, more real story.

Try this with a few of your scenes. Try it with some published novels, by checking their scenes for the elements of conflict, action, surprise, and emotional shift. If you still have questions after that, ask me.

54 comments:

Nancy P said...

I would love a cup of coffee right now, only it's 11:30 at night. Even for caffeine-loving me, that might be pressing my luck.

See you in the morning.

AndiF said...

There's only one thing I can say about a post like this:
    Morning all.

Beth said...

Morning, andi! It's great that you're always here waiting in the mornings, up and ready to go. :-)

Doesn't decaf work for you, Nancy? Or is that still too much caffeine for so late at night?

I love this post, as you can imagine. Haven't seen this idea before, and is something that can be easily judged. In fact, I'm going to go do it right now.

Have a great morning, everyone! Hope your day is warm and sunny and filled with laughter.

GhostFolk.com said...

Nancy, you've just given us an entire book of revising direction in a few paragraphs. Terrific stuff!

I strongly agree with you on emotional turns in a scene really making a story come in close, making a story matter.

There's one teeny thing I'd like to add. You can also re-write a scene to have this emotional turn occur in the reader without change to the character's emotions.

In the end, it is the reader's emotions you are controlling as you manipulate (sorry to sound anti-art) a charcter's emotional shifts. It's teeny bit more advanced to sometimes turn the reader's emotions in a scene (by atcion, conflict, surprise) without shifting much in the character's emotions at all.

A quick example is to have a character tell the main characrter (of the scene) an outright lie. This is an effective turn of emotion, as the reader immediately shifts suspicion toward this character. Yet, the fact of the lie is only known (and likely emphasized)to the reader in that particular scene.

In short, the "conflict" and "surprise" may occur in the heart of the reader. The action may be anticipated by the reader (inevitable) and as yet unknown to and/or unexperienced by the character in that scene. This is also a "turn", don't you think?

Mostly, in first person, the reader is on the same roller-coaster ride with the p.o.v. character. In third-person, though, you can throw the reader off cliffs and leave the main character be for a bit, now and then. Obvious Example: Forest Gump, Little Red Riding Hood.

And let's face it, the best part of writing fiction is screwing with the reader. :-) Na na na nah. [Oh, in a positive way of course... LOL.]

Some writers do this stuff naturally. Don't you hate 'em?

Good morning, Andi, Beth and everyone drop by, uh, post post.

Grinning, Beth. If you've read Nancy's latest novels, you've seen this idea before. :-) It's why her work is always nominated for so many awards!

Beth said...

Morning, ghost. Thanks for the additional comments. With folks like you and Nancy holding my hand and pushing me along, I can't help but improve.

Frantically scribbling notes to myself...

Sending catnip to the kitties.

GhostFolk.com said...

I thought of another example. You can have, oh I don't know, a tornado show up right behind a character, who doesn't see it yet.

This would be a very effective "turn" in a scene, I think.

And, you get to use the "turn" again when it happens to the character.

GhostFolk.com said...

Or... you could have a romantic-interset character buy an old building in a dead prairie town and start sweeping it out without the main character even knowing about it.

I think this might work as a turn on the reader along the lines of "surprise". Oh, and maybe wonderment and anticipation... and, I don't know, it just sounds good to me.

GhostFolk.com said...

My post-it note: Turn the reader, the reader turns the page.

Beth said...

A good Post-It, Ghostie. Now I'm going to be singing Bob Seger all day. :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

Beth! Change the words just a little: "Here I am, writing a book again."

Beth said...

Here I am, writing a book again,
Here I am, stuck on a page,
Here I go, playing with hearts again,
Here I go, turn the page.

Beth said...

Actually the last line should read:

Here I go, (hoping you'll) turn the page.

:-)

katiebird said...

(Waving) Good Morning Nancy, Andi, Beth & Ghost.

This will be a fun conversation to follow, but I don't have much to contribute here.

Ghost, I've got another eBay-ish question. But it's probably too insanely stupid to actually ask....

GhostFolk.com said...

Too good, Beth! LOL. You are writer or something? :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

Hi Katiebird. There are no stupid questions, just me.

katiebird said...

Ah, ghost, but you haven't heard this one yet. Well, actually -- I bet you have. And that's why I'll have coffee before I bug you with it.

FARfetched said...

Seems so obvious after someone else shows it to you. :-) And what a bright conversation for way too damn early!

Beth, to pick up the thread from yesterday, we haven't inserted the insert yet. I just asked Mrs. Fetched & she said probably this weekend. And then Murphy will turn up Gaia's thermostat and we won't need it!

Something I've been considering for a few days, and this seems like a good day to speak up: would my fellow unpublished-but-trying writers be interested in joining a private Google or Yahoo group for passing around MSS and commenting? The rest of the gang here would be welcome to join, of course, to watch the fun or throw in their two cents… or even to join the fun.

Beth said...

Sign me up, far! I was part of an online group for a while, and really enjoyed it. Since I don't have a flesh and bones critique group right now, it'd be nice to have a virtual one. Good idea!

Maria Lima said...

Nancy - thanks so much for the great post! I'm in the midst of polishing part the first and writing part the second of the book that is soon due. This is so helpful!

And let's face it, the best part of writing fiction is screwing with the reader - Ghost - that's an awesome line, and totally what I aim for. :)

Now, it's off to the salt mines for the day. Hope you all keep warm.

Jen said...

Well it has warmed up enough here to snow. ::cries::

Great technical post, Nancy. I go so much by feel when I write/edit that I sometimes forget how helpful it can be to turn the logic portion of my brain on. Duh.

Kelly McCullough said...

Morning all--the nameless green again.

Nice post, Nancy.

I might add one more alternative to the lovely one noted by Ghost: The circular scene wherein the character starts in a certain emotional state, things transpire, the character goes through a series of emotional changes and shifts, the character is returned to the original emotional state either with greater context or with a new focus for the same emotion.

In that case you've got powerful emotional shifting, but the main shift in the scene is either informational or structural in the plot sense.

Far, if you do go ahead and form on online group and are looking for more folks I might have a potential member for you--one of my mentees (and may I just note that I'm still trying to figure out how I got old and respected enough to have sprouted mentees--it hardly seems fair when I still have so very much to learn).

Beth said...

Sprouted mentees...Kelly, I'm picturing you as a Chia pet...

Kelly McCullough said...

That's pretty much the way it feels some days.

Nancy P said...

Good morning!!

Andi, I'm late in complimenting you for yesterday's photos. It's as if you took photos of the work of an Ice Artist. Really amazing stuff.

I feel uneasy each time I inflict writing posts on those of you who aren't writers by trade. Sometimes I think this blog needs two divisions--one dedicated just to writing talk among writers, and the other more like the cafe, where we chat.

Maybe on the days I do writing posts I could also post a coffee shop for our Daily Chat. ?

If anybody has any opinions about this, please let me know.

Nancy P said...

This is my Day of Ambivalence.

Ghost, I go back and forth on that idea of it being sufficient to turn the reader, but not necessarily having to turn the character. Even if the writer turns the reader--a most satisfying thing for a reader--I'd ask that writer to see if it might not be possible also to turn the character, for added richness. If another character lies, as in your example, maybe at least the pov character could feel a touch of unquiet,or whatever. Or its reverse--she could be fooled, and feel more secure as a result of the lie.

Oh! I get it. I say to myself. If something happens that turns the reader, then the pov character WILL surely have some kind of reaction to it, inner or outer.

Maybe not in all cases. I'm not sure. But I do know that if I were rewriting, and I found a scene where I turned the readers but not a character, I'd take a REALLY close look to see if both things might be possible.

Nancy P said...

Far, I think that's a good idea to try an on-line group. Maybe you'll also hear from some lurkers who would like that.

Beth said...

I hope you realize how exciting it is for newbies to sit here and quietly watch the brains of our Chia-mentors work, sucking up the wisdom. And that we appreciate it.

What happened to your question, kb? We can do more than one thread at once!

Nancy P said...

Hi, Jen. Yeah, I think "natural" writers do forget that sometimes (not talking about you)--or they resist it, cause it's not so much fun for them. My sense is that, ideally, the best fiction combines technical skill and natural storytelling talent, (and daring and originality). Without the "natural" part of storytelling, a writer has a hard time finding the truth of her story, and without at least some technical skill even the most beautifully written words can't hold a reader for very long.

All opinions subject to change at a monent's notice. :D

Kelly McCullough said...

Ooh, Andi, I didn't see yesterday's picture until Nancy reminded me to go look. Gorgeous! The beauty is one of the reasons I'd have a hard time living without winter...though if someone wants to buy me a house on Kauai I might be convinced to try it for a while.

Nancy P said...

Excellent points, Kelly.

Beth, did I ever say hi?? I hope all this is helpful and not overwhelming. Any time advice gets overwhelming, tell it to go to hell. You'll note I said "it," not "us." : D

FARfetched said...

My sense is that, ideally, the best fiction combines technical skill and natural storytelling talent, (and daring and originality).

Technical writing is similar in that regard. You need to be able to explain things in a way that won't bore the reader to death. But at the same time you need to structure the work (grouping related subjects together, consistent tone throughout, that kind of thing) to make it easier to find things & follow along.

Okay, the group idea seems to be well-received. Anyone have a preference, Google vs. Yahoo? Or a better idea altogether? Both Google & Yahoo provide invite-only access, which I think is important — but both also archive, which I'd rather turn off if possible. I belong to several Yahoo groups, so I'm familiar with how they work, but you have to be a Yahoo member to get in.

Beth said...

Hi, Nancy! And I would never tell anyone to go to hell. Well, except for the Bad Relative, but that's another story. No, this is all wonderful, I'm making notes. Actually, I'm 2/3 of the way through reading thru each scene to check the emotion content.

I'm in Jen's realm - it just comes out. Then I have to go back and make sure I have all of the pieces that need to be there.

I'm easy, far - I'm a yahoo member, so that works for me, but I can join anything necessary.

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and everyone.

Cold and raining here and just about all the snow we got is gone. Still a few snowmen around, but they're melting away.

I think it's great of you putting up the technical part of writing. To many people who have no idea of the ins and outs of writing, it's an eye opener. One day if I start the great American novel, I'll keep referring back to here. :)

maryb said...

I love the technical writing blog posts and love to read the comments from commenters who write. Never worry about me being bored.

We woke up to a light dusting of sleet but nothing too bad. It's still cold but at least the sun came out.

AndiF said...

Nancy, I like the writing posts and it doesn't bother me in the least to just take on FM's slacker mode and just sit back and enjoy reading what the various writers have to say.

And thanks to you and Kelly (and the folks from yesterday) for the compliments on the ice/freezing water shots -- the patterns are endlessly fascinating to me; it's good to know I'm not boring you with them (IOW, I have more).

Kelly McCullough said...

Wrong about my tea this morning. It wasn't the nameless green it was Jasmine Dragon Pheonix Pearl in which "the youngest leaf tips are scented with fresh Jasmine blossoms 8-10 times and hand rolled into pearls yielding an intense, slightly sweet, floral flavor. May be infused many times." Per Tea Source. Lovely stuff.

Nancy P said...

Thanks fm, af, and mb, you have helped me get over my Attack of the Worry Spasm. :)

Nancy P said...

Beth, I missed your coffee question. I never EVER drink decaf unless forced to by circumstances. "Circumstances" would be defined as a Bad Host(ess)who fails to provide ME with REAL coffee at any time of day or night. :)

Beth said...

Ah, I didn't realize decaf was up there with the Cardinal Sins. Mea culpa. I just thought if you REALLY wanted coffee......

Silly me. :-)

BTW, after numerous interruptions, I went through the entire mss and checked emotion. Boy, do I got emotion! But a few scenes needed tweaking, so thanks again for the great advice! I'm still anxious to learn about the highlighters - do I have to wait for KY to do that? :-)

FARfetched said...

Yep, Nancy, I'm with you on decaf.

I remember hearing a rude (but oh so true) metaphor for decaf. Perhaps you've heard it too?

Nancy P said...

No, far, but various possibilities come to mind, lol. Dare you share? Give us a clue.

Beth said...

Sticking my fingers in my ears - LA LA LA LA LA LA LA

:-)

Love, the decaf drinker

maryb said...

Probably no one but Nancy and kb will understand just how excited I am that Matt Blunt announced today (out of the blue and with no warning, including apparently to members of his own party) that he is not running for re-election as governor of Missouri.

My office is guessing indictments will follow. Yippeee!

What a day. The market was crazy. The Archbishop of St. Louis decided to threaten the basketball coach at St. Louis University. And now this. Is there a full moon? Why yes! There is!

katiebird said...

Mary! That's wonderful! I've been out of touch all day and this is great news to hear.

!!

FARfetched said...

Now that I'm not at work…

Drinking decaf is like masturbating and faking the orgasm. :-D

Beth said...

(tiptoeing into the kitchen and hiding the decaf in the very back of the fridge)

katiebird said...

(stunned silence)

Family Man said...

I'm not a de-caf or near beer drinker. I figure the entire reason I will drink coffee and used to drink beer is the effects. I've never been big of the taste of either to be honest, so if I'm going to drink em, I want something to show for it. :)

Beth said...

I understand, fam. Caffeine doesn't wake me up - it just screws up my blood sugar. So no reason to drink it. And when you're from the NW, the taste of coffee - decaf or otherwise - is enough. I know, it's sacrilege - and if it woke me up, I'd probably risk feeling lousy to drink it some days!

Beer is another story completely... :-)

Nancy P said...

Far and Beth, lol!!

MARYB AND KATIEB. . .Happy happy on both sides of our state line!!
It really has to be that indictments are coming.

Nancy P said...

fam man, you are an honest fellow, lol.

boran2 said...

Far, umm, well said. I've gotta have the caffeine myself. Unlike FM, I like the taste of coffee but agree that beer does not tast very good.

Kelly McCullough said...

Far, that was a thing of disturbing beauty.

FARfetched said...

Kelly, I wish I could take credit for it. I can't. Someone had that in his Usenet .signature line some time back.

I also drink coffee for the caffeine. Beer… I like some better than others.