Focus on Rewriting


 

Having taken a bit of a step back from my work and embarking on a “new” rewrite, my mind is now full of how I can rewrite the script I am currently focusing on and what, exactly, is rewriting?

I touched on the importance of taking a step back last week and how, if I don’t, my rewrites tend to be nothing more than a tidy up of dialogue and descriptive text; perhaps saving me a few lines here and there but not, effectively, altering or improving the story. If I am not careful, I just end up editing my work – or at least doing to it what I would consider editing. The work will read better, and flow more pleasantly, but the story, the characters, the plot, themes and emotions will be identical. It can be easy to do this a few times and think you have improved your story, but any reader worth their salt will be able to see through this in an instant. A patchy narrative or a weak plot, is still just that, regardless of how good your editing skills are.

To rewrite effectively, I think you need to have a plan. Stories live or die on their plots, themes and, often most importantly, characters. You need to focus on what you are aiming for with your story, its strengths, weakness and its characters. You need to be able to delve more deeply into the story, to explore the underlying structure, themes and motivations so you don’t just scratch the surface or, more accurately, polish the surface!

But how to focus and plan?

If I have taken enough time away from a project, I can come back to it with fresh eyes. My current project did surprise me in a couple of ways as there were aspects of it that I did not remember writing. By coming back to it fresh, I can come back at it in a more objective way. After reading it through once, I then go through it again and think about the characters, the scenes, sequences, themes, twists and turns. Does it all work, are the characters believeable, is there enough conflict, what are the components that need work?

As I start to make notes, I will come up with a plan for the various components. For example, for each character, noting how they should develop, how I can make their voices clearer in the narrative and how I can make them more believeable. I will take notes from my peers (if I have them) and see how certain plot elements could be changed and adapted and how that could effect the whole work. I start to make myself a rewriting “to-do” list that focused my attention on these various components.

And this is where, for me, things differ from simple editing.

For editing, my to-do list might just be:

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Spelling
  • Grammar;

a combination of editing and proof-reading, a broad and unfocused overview. My rewrite checklist, on the other hand, will be a lot more detailed:

  • BOB needs to be more aggressive in his scenes with PAM
  • The dog needs to be foreshadowed much earlier in the script
  • Incident with the artichokes needs to come much earlier in the script and before PAM finds out about the butler’s misdemeanour
  • How will the aftermath of PAM’s discovery affect the revelation in ACT II?

Obviously, these are just made up but you get the picture. They are more specific and measurable changes to the work, to make it more interesting to read and more dramatic, or faster-paced and action-packed. All of it is designed to make it a better story, not just make it look nice on paper. It is certainly more focused.

And these changes don’t all have to be done in one go or in one pass of the script from start to finish. In fact, it is possibly better not to do that. A single scene might not require much work, but if I wanted to up the ante on PAM and BOB’s relationship, then perhaps I would need to go through the script and pull out all of Pam and Bob’s scenes to focus on them away from the work as a whole. Just working from FADE IN to FADE OUT might not be enough to elevate your process from simple editing to effective rewriting. You need to focus on the areas that require work and fight to make them better. (Have a look at the link below on The Surgical Drape Technique for another perspective on this.)

If that sounds like a lot of work well… it is. And it has to be. You need to be prepared to break your script down in order to build it up. Rewriting is hard and it is probably one aspect of writing that many of us are most afraid of. That might be the reason why rewrites in my early life as a writer involved a simple editorial polish, rather than a full rewrite; I was too scared to get really stuck in and mess with what I thought was a perfect draft.

Now, I understand the importance of rewriting and how invaluable it is to the creative process. We have all heard someone say that “Writing is Rewriting” and we often spend longer doing the rewriting than putting the original draft together. This can put us off rewriting as it appears to take us away from what we really want to be doing – writing and creating. But Rewriting is also Writing (whether you like it or not), so it doesn’t remove you from your creative process, it actually puts you in the thick of it and can only make you a better writer in the long run.

So, get stuck in, focus on your rewriting and enjoy the creative process!

 

How do you approach re-writing?

Are you guilty of polishing, rather than rewriting?

Feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on the process of rewriting.

(And bonus points for anyone who came here via Twitter and can name the device in the picture and what it is for – the theme of this post is a clue.)

 

Additional Reading:

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Posted on February 17, 2016, in Character, rewriting, Structure, theme, Uncategorized, Writing, writing exercises, Writing Rules and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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