Saturday, April 4, 2009

Notes on Rewriting

I’ve got rewriting on the brain. I started going through my writing books and reviewing sections on rewriting. For as much as everyone says “writing is rewriting,” writing books seem to have awfully small sections on revision. Anyway, I re-read parts of Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver recently, and thought I’d share some of my favorite tidbits. Back in the day when I started this innocent hobby (or so I thought) of creative writing, this was the first book on writing I read. It’s very helpful and a pretty easy read. Good starter book.
  • “Rewriting is not polishing.” So good to remember. You aren’t ready to get things perfect on the second draft. Continue to let yourself experiment and make mistakes. Don’t try to get every synonym down and every comma in the right place. Polishing comes later.
  • Cleaver suggests it takes, on average, about five drafts to get a story right.
  • When you’re starting out, don’t always try to get a story perfect. Get it as good as you can get it for where you are as a writer. Then start another project.
  • Cleaver refers to rewriting as “craft in progress.” Mmm. Love that phrase.
  • What to do when you’re lost? Go back to the main elements of Want, Obstacle, Action. He suggests that if you avoid these main points of the story “It’s like waxing your car when it needs a new engine.”
  • When you’re revising and thinking about your story and if it has what it needs, “don’t work in your head.” Find the proof on the page. If you can’t point to the exact words that back up how obvious it is, then they are only in your mind and will never be in reader’s. I am guilty of this a lot!
  • Resolution “is simply a matter of a victory or a defeat.” Did the character get what they want or not? Mini-resolutions occur throughout your story as your character faces her obstacle and chips away at it bit by bit.
  • Don’t forget emotion. This “is where the ultimate connection is made.”
  • “Showing is creating the experience.” Don’t just talk about what happened; write it so the reader can really experience it herself.
  • “Let nothing be easy for anyone ever.” Who wants to read about someone’s easy breezy life? No fun! Make things tough, always.
  • Use double duty: every little action and scene in the story has to reveal character. If you send your character to a cocktail party, this event better have some significant connection to your character. Is the person who’s creating an obstacle there and can help/hinder your character? Does your character have a drinking problem? Is your character socially awkward and full of anxiety about attending cocktail parties? Make it all count.
  • History and biography doesn’t develop character. “Your character is developed by the way he acts in the present, the way he deals with his problems.” Don’t rely on too much backstory. Show what’s going on now.
  • Ask yourself “why” about everything. Be specific. Why is this event relevant to this specific character? “In fiction, we’re looking for the root cause, the deepest level of the experience, the most personal and specific reasons.”

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