Last week, Anthony said that creating vivid characters has been a weak spot for him in the past. Continuing with the theme of self-criticism, today I’ll be talking about…
A tale of two rewrites.
I have a story about a guy named Equivan and his grandfather, whose name is also Equivan. Equivan lives in Fate Year, while Equivan lives in Bull Year. Even better, Equivan’s grandmother and Equivan’s wife, Kentar, is immortal, so Kentar regularly talks with both Equivan and Equivan in both Fate Year and Bull Year.
Still with me?
Fortunately one of the magazines I submitted this story to was kind enough to point my mistake out: there’s no way for the reader to tell the difference between two concurrent storylines. And what the hell even is a Bull Year and a Fate Year, anyway?
They requested a rewrite.
It’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand, not getting an email that says “Your story has much to be desired and we’re not sure why anybody would want to publish this” is like Christmas/Hanukah/Winter Solstice come early. On the other hand… Rewrites were in my future.
In 2011, I began a self-termed “scifantastic” novel with the seed of an idea: A kitten playing with a ball of string.
Stay with me. See, the string was a metaphor for the gods’ power, and the kitten was a metaphor for meddling mortals, thus creating magic. And so a spunky kitten named “Mew,” a companion of a hero/android named Boris, continued to sneak around with the crew.
By the time the first draft was done, Mew had done nothing of any importance.
Mew had to go.
Revision: Two Lessons
I used to dig my heels in when it came to rewrites: “But this is the way the story is! It’s done! Just accept it!” And maybe I’d change a word here or there, but I believed in the sanctity of my original piece and gods help me if I was going to sully it by changing things.
But revision is called revision for a reason. I’m in the process of learning to embrace rewrites: it’s a chance for me to change how I think about the chapter or story. What if is a good place to start, not only for a first draft but also when digging in to rewrite.
What if Equivan is dealing with the repercussions of his father’s reign, not his grandfather’s? It would make it much more immediate for the character’s memory (who doesn’t love some good daddy issues?). Plus there’s the added bonus of not having two characters named the exact. same. thing.
And what if instead of naming the years they’re living in (and needlessly complicating the plot line), I write the past as if it’s a fairy tale, and I write the present storyline in a more modern voice?
What if opens me up to new characters.
What if lets me delete a whole scene and start on it from scratch without getting massive anxiety.
It’s a mindset of play, rather than a mindset of work. Revision should be just as creative as the first draft is.
Cut. Cut. Cut.
Less is more.
Less = more.
The more you can say with less space, the more brilliant you become. My favorite feline Mew wasn’t the only character who got cut out of that first scifantastic draft. There was a boy who only existed so he could get killed later on. There were unicorns. There were Amazon women. There was an entirely new species of aliens.
I gave some of their lines to other, more important characters. In some places I cut out scenes entirely. And do you know what? The story did not fall apart.
There is a kind of therapeutic release with getting rid of old junk. Donating to shelters, thrift stores, or just tossing stuff out opens up your closets for better stuff. You can be mobile and flexible. You can move without worrying about that junk weighing you down.
The same thing works with words. Cutting out 20,000 words from that first novel draft was like a breath of fresh air, freeing me from the mental weight holding me down (and actual physical weight in the printed draft). I had less characters to juggle and my vision was clearer.
The MUGsters’ critiques really help with noticing scenes that could be tightened up, things that could be tossed out. So the next time you have a big revision ahead of you, keep two things in mind: can you play with it to make it better, and do you need it? You’ll end up with a leaner, meaner manuscript – until, of course, the next rewrite.