Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Focus During the Rewrite

Writing is rewriting. When I lay down my first draft I’m basically telling myself the story and meeting the characters. Last time I told you what I focus on during that first pass. I point my brain in a very different direction when I get down to revising that draft. At this point I’m not learning the story I’m working to improve it. This is not editing. It’s too soon for me to worry about grammar and spelling. At this point I’m looking at the characters, the plot, the setting and if there is one, the theme.

I focus on the descriptions, all of which are written from the perspective of the point of view character. I write in third person, but it is close third person. That means that all of my prose needs to show what that point of view character sees, hears, feels, smells and tastes. Anytime the descripts don’t fit that bill I’ve wandered into omniscient view or worse, I’m head hopping.
Next I focus on the actual data. Every story is filled with relationships, character backstory, details about the setting, the history, the motivations. During the rewrite I’m looking at how my prose delivers that information. Everything needs to flow smoothly with no info dumps. And to maintain the point of view, all that data has to be presented in the point of view character’s voice, and it has to all be within his reasonable knowledge.

In revision I also re-examine the action. Not just the violent conflicts, but every character’s body language and casual movements. I want my reader to be able to clearly visualize all of the mannerisms. That is as important as being able to visualize the fight scenes. And each character’s action have to fit that character, without overdoing it (how many times did she twist that lock of hair?) Too many of those little movements can actually mess with the pace.

I also look closely at the dialog. Every word out of a character’s mouth should serve a purpose, either to promote the plot or deepen character development. And conversations should either reveal or impact the relationship between the characters talking. And I remind myself that each character has an individual voice.  This includes inner dialog. It has to ring true to their voice and be true to that character’s emotional stakes.

I focus on a different set of elements when I get down to the editing phase, but that’s for next time.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Focus on Improving Your Writing

When people ask “How can I improve my writing” I think of a number of fundamentals an author should focus on as they write. But perhaps one thing that may not be obvious is that where a writer’s focus should be depends on what stage of the process he is in. My process for writing a first draft is very different from my process when rewriting or editing a work. So I thought it might be of value to share where my head is at each stage.

I’ll start with the first draft. I have my outline and I’m ready to write. But the outline is just the plot, the sequence of events.  Once I start creating prose I need to answer one very important question: whose story is this? I’m going to tell this story through the eyes, and thoughts, of a specific point of view character. That character’s voice is what I hear in my head as the lines form, and that character’s voice shows in every line I type. Your first draft is the best place to explore that character’s voice.

Point of view has a second meaning to writers, and the first draft is where you decide that too. That, is, first or third person point of view. Second person point of view is more work than I want to do so I don’t even consider it. I choose to write my novels in a close third person point of view, but short stories often feel better in first person. You really don’t want to switch mid-stream so make a firm decision at the start and stick with it.

You also want to decide on the atmosphere and mood of your story at the outset. The atmosphere is part of the setting, instead of what your characters see or hear it is what they feel. The atmosphere could be light and pleasant, or dark and foreboding, or even suspenseful like that still moment just before a storm hits. But It should be a decision, not an accident.  

One other point. In my first draft I try to look back every couple of paragraphs and ask myself, ‘Did that serve the story?” As much as possible, I want every sentence to either advance the plot or develop my characters. The better I do at that, the less I’ll have to cut during the rewrite.

Next week I’ll talk about where I focus during that rewrite.