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Posts Tagged ‘rewriting’

  1. How to Rewrite a Novel: Step Four

    August 14, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    Rewriting a novel is like sitting on the edge of a pool. The water’s cold. You can dive right in, get the discomfort over with, splash around to warm up, and then lose yourself in the steady stroke of limbs through water.

    Or, like me, you can hang out on the edge while the sun bakes your skin and your feet turn into prunes.

    Welcome to week five of my novel rewrite.

    This is how rewriting my novel looked:

    I attended an outdoor concert with a Meetup group from The Sierra Club. The club turned out to be a bunch of lively women, ages sixty and up, and a grizzled guy who may have been a sea captain. Another guy, wearing a goofy beach hat, stood around grinning like babies do when they have gas. I sat in my low-slung chair behind a woman in a sleeveless blouse who shaded her eyes with one hand, cutting off my view of the stage with her underarm flab. Occasionally, she dropped her arm, so my view became a vision of Michael Jackson–if Michael Jackson was middle-aged and fifty pounds overweight and stuffed into black leather pants–strutting and doing that pelvic bump, while a four-man horn section dipped and pivoted like the backup for The Temptations.

    After three songs, I folded up my chair and left.

    The next day, I went swimming. The pool was packed. I swam laps in the shallow end. The woman sharing my lane trudged back and forth in hiking boots, talking on her cell phone the entire time. One hundred dollar hiking boots. In chlorinated water. And a cell phone.

    Some days, I stood in the middle of my room, thinking.

    Had I stumbled once again onto Resistance Highway? Or was this non-writing activity actually accomplishing something?

    Well, a little of both.

    I was noodling loglines.

    It’s part of my action plan for rewriting a novel. I had arrived at:

    Step Four

    Write a logline.

    What’s a logline?

    It’s a sentence that describes the novel, and answers the questions:

    Who is the protagonist?
    What does the protagonist want?
    What’s at stake?

    Ya gotta know the who, what, and why-bother, otherwise, how can you rewrite the dang thing?

    So, I contemplated. I gnawed on ideas. I engaged in other activities. And then I took a hike with my niece, who was on a whirlwind visit through town.

    We talked writing. She wanted to know what my novel was about. I launched into a lengthy description and ended with an exasperated, “I just wish I knew what’s driving my protagonist!”

    And my niece said, “It’s funny, we wonder what our characters want, but we’re the ones making it all up.”

    We’re the ones making it all up!

    D’uh. Head slap.

    All I needed to do was pick something, and go with it.

    Write ten possible loglines. Twenty. Twenty-five. Whatever. Then PICK ONE.

    Jump in the pool.

    Stuck? Or Avoiding?

    Sometimes, we get stuck in our writing, and need to occupy ourselves elsewhere so the idea we’re searching for can swim into our consciousness. But there’s a fine line between taking time away, and staying away because the water’s too cold.

    That’s where those vows come in handy. You know, the ones that start: I promise to show up for my writing every day, no matter what.

    So, how do you know what side of the line you’re on?

    Look for signs of resistance.

    I know I’m in resistance when I start doing what comes easy, rather than what comes hard, like rewriting. “I’ll just answer a few emails. Shuffle papers. Blog.”

    I know I’m in resistance when I force myself to write, and I lose track of time.

    But If I force myself to write, and resent it, I know I need to go back to noodling. Nothing wrong with that.

    At least this time, I recognized the highway, and hitched a ride out. I was digging through some boxes of books in storage, looking for some good reads to bring on my vacation, and found a copy of Sell Your Story in a Single Sentence, by Lane Shefter Bishop. A whole book about how to write a logline! Had my intuition guided me to that box? Could be.

    I read the first few chapters. Jotted down a rough idea. Refined it. Refined it again and again and again, eliminating excess words, homing in on the want, the stakes, until…Bingo! I had my logline.

    Is it the perfect logline? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s something I can work with.

    Onward, to Step Five!


  2. How to Rewrite a Novel: The First Three Steps

    August 7, 2016 by Diane

    hand opening red curtain on white.

    In junior high school, I had a math teacher who was part hipster, part geek. He wore white dress shirts, skinny black ties, black glasses, and always had what he referred to as “a plan of action.” I don’t recall what his plan was, or what action it required, but his call for one appealed to my need for control.

    When I write, I plunge in without a plan of any kind. I’m like a detective on a mission of discovery, following a character to see who she is, what messes she gets into, how she gets out of said messes, and how she changes as a result. It makes for an exciting first-draft experience.

    Then—groan—comes the rewrite.

    Here’s where a plan of action would come in handy. My “plan” in the past has been to read through the manuscript, rearrange parts willy-nilly, make a mess of the whole thing, and stuff it back into its cardboard Kinko’s box.

    I had no clue how to tackle a rewrite. Oh, I had read books galore on what’s needed plot-wise, character-wise, theme-wise, and every other wise. Then I’d strap on my monster backpack like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, weighed down by all the knowledge I had crammed in, and forge ahead on the long trail to rewriting glory, stumbling down roads that many have gone before:

    • Resistance Highway
    • Distraction Detour
    • The Avenue of Doubt
    • The Street of Avoidance
    • The Rearranging Roundabout
    • A pit-stop to ask for directions
    • The Valley of the Critic
    • What looked like Plot Paradise but was really a pothole
    • Recharge Vista Point
    • Busyness Boulevard
    • Quitting: a dead end

     
    On I stumbled, hither and yon, ending right back where I started: with a pack of knowledge, and a manuscript snipped into pieces and stuffed into a cardboard box.

    But not this time.

    This time, as I rewrite my novel behind the writer’s curtain, I’ve got a plan of action. I’m mapping the journey step by step. Starting with the first step.

    Are you ready?

    (Drum roll, please)

    Step One

    Set the manuscript aside.

    Whaaat? That’s a step? 

    Believe it or not, it is. A step back. We need the perspective, and our writing needs some breathing room.

    What do we do while it’s breathing? Well, we can do any of these fifteen writing exercises, or work on another writing project, or catch up on our reading, or tackle any of those household chores we’ve put off—if we haven’t already done them as a way to avoid rewriting that novel.

    When the month is up (or whatever time we’ve allotted), we’re ready for:

    Step Two

    Read the manuscript.

    Oh, this is just too easy.

    Not really. When we hunker down and read the thing we might find ourselves groaning, or thumping our forehead with the flat of our palm, or throwing the pages across the room, or eyeing the paper shredder.

    But at least we know where we are on the map. We have some idea of how hard the journey might be. And we start thinking about getting the tools we need to sally forth. Which brings us to:

    Step Three

    Pack yer gear.

    Huh?

    You know, the stuff we need for the trip. Here’s a list:

    First aid supplies: supportive family, friends, and blog readers to prop us up

    Maps: Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, or whatever plotting device we choose to use. Guides, like books, experts, and internet sites to provide the details we need to flesh out the story.

    Food: whatever sustains us when the going gets tough, like inspirational quotes, and treats.

    But let’s not load ourselves down, or spend too much time packing. After all, we’ve got miles to go before we submit.

    This time, I’m better prepared. I’ve read my manuscript. I’ve spent time delving into additional research. Now, with Beat Sheet in hand, I know where I am, and which direction leads to the Land of Publishable Novels.

    Off I go!

    Stay tuned for more action plan steps as I report from the trail.


  3. Book Review: Save the Cat!

    July 31, 2016 by Diane

    Save the Cat!

    As ye who follow this blog already know, I’m rewriting my first novel. It’s a manuscript I wrote one November as part of the National Novel Writing challenge—fifty thousand words in thirty days—all written by the seat of my pants.

    Not surprisingly, it’s fifty thousand words that don’t add up to a solid plot.

    After reading this plotless draft, I knew I had a lot of work ahead, but not a clue as to how to rewrite the mess. It had major problems, but I didn’t know specifically why.

    The ship was sinking, and I was ready to bail.

    Enter Blake Snyder.

    Blake Snyder was a successful screenwriter who wrote Save the Cat!, Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat! Strikes Back! If there’s anyone who knows anything about plot, it’s a successful screenwriter.

    “Save the Cat” is a term for the scene in the movie where, as Snyder puts it, “…we meet the hero and the hero does something—like saving a cat—that defines who he is and makes us, the audience, like him.”

    Blake Snyder’s secret to a successful story.

    Snyder realized that every great screenplay can be broken down into fifteen “beats.” These beats set up the story, force the hero to change, and propel the hero to the moment of win, lose, or draw. Without these beats, the screenplay lacks a spine, lacks a character arc, lacks a compelling story.

    Each beat occurs at set points in the script, and Snyder pins it down to the specific pages, starting with the opening image, down to the final moment, with all the turning points in between. He even came up with a beat sheet that we can all use to “beat out” our story.

    But what’s the story about?

    Good question. If you haven’t nailed the answer, you can’t beat out the plot. Snyder gives clues to help writers narrow down the theme and then come up with a solid “logline” that sums up the story in one sentence. Once the writer has a grasp of the theme and the logline, it’s a matter of mapping out the beats, and breaking the beats into scenes.

    At last! A map to the treasure!

    Now I knew what to look for, and where to look. To plot my novel, I asked myself:

    • Is the opening image opposite from the closing image?
    • Is the theme stated on page X?
    • Did I set up the hero’s world on pages X – XX?
    • Is there a moment that changes that world, and a moment when the hero makes a conscious choice to change course?
    • Is there a clear shift into Acts II and III?
    • Do the “bad guys close in,” is there a “dark moment of the soul,” do I reveal a solution to stories A and B?

    And so on…

    I know, sounds like a lot to take in. But Snyder simplifies the process. He gives examples from real movies. I recommend that you do what I did: with beat sheet in hand, and some DVDs of movies in the genre you’re writing, map the beats. They’re all there, just like Snyder promised.

    As I read Save the Cat!, light bulbs went off in my brain. All of this applies to novel writing! Just change the page numbers for each beat to match the number of pages in the novel I’m rewriting. 

    How?

    Enter Jessica Brody.

    On her site, she provides a template you can download for novelists. Fill in the number of words your novel will be, and the template automatically updates the page numbers to correspond with Blake Snyder’s fifteen beats.

    But what if you’re a pantser, not a plotter?

    As a seat-of-the-pants writer, am I selling out by following something that sounds formulaic? Here’s the way I look at it: a jazz musician improvises on a melody in a specific key; a dancer improvises based on the music. The form is the bowl that holds whatever recipe we dream up and whip together.

    Just get the book!

    I can’t recommend Save the Cat! highly enough. No matter where you are in the process of writing a novel or script—from first draft to rewrite—trust me, Blake Snyder is the guide you want for your journey.

    In fact, buy all three books. Save the Cat! Goes to the Movies gives a complete breakdown of the fifteen beats for movies, by genre, for “every story ever told.” Save the Cat! Strikes Back! elaborates on the process of building scenes, and offers a slew of advice for when you get into trouble.