Do you understand your own story? Deep Revision: Part 1.
This is Part One of a 5-part tutorial called Deep Revision. This series is designed to help you prepare for The Little Bird Writing Contest.
This is one of the great anxieties of writing fiction: you can only know your story after you’ve written it. If you write self-consciously, you defeat the creative act (Ray Bradbury said that). Therefore, your first draft holds all sorts of significance you don’t know consciously, yet.
Now that you’ve written it, you get to find out what your story really IS.
And that’s the first thing you need to know, because you don’t want to revise what you think you wrote. You want to approach your draft with curiosity – see what you’ve actually written, first, and what it might be telling you.
Allow yourself to be surprised by yourself.
It might seem dismaying that you should see what your story is about only after you have written it. Try it; you’ll like it. Nothing is more exhilarating than the discovery that a complex pattern has lain in your mind ready to unfold.
— Janet Burroway
A story gets better not just by polishing and refurbishing, not by improving a word choice here and an image there, but by taking risks with structure, re-envisioning, being open to new meaning itself.
A second draft isn’t created simply by sitting down and starting on page one and tinkering and tightening every line until you reach the end. In a second draft, you’re going to deal with chunks of new information, new characters and new structures. You’re going to experiment with the sound of your voice and style.
It’s work, but the good thing is that you’ll be discovering your story in your second draft. Once you’ve done that, it’s likely to stay done.
Today’s exercises are going to start you digging for more material, so you can understand more about what you’ve already written.
Note: these exercises owe thanks to Bret Anthony Johnston and his excellent book on writing, Naming the World.
1. Choose a character from your story who is the least developed right now. Write a list of everything your character resents or is ashamed of in the entire world.
2. Write in the voice of this character twenty years later, describing the events in the story that’s being told in the present. How does the character feel about these events now? How important was this day in the context of his or her life?
OR: if the piece is already being told twenty years later, write in the voice of the character in the present moment. How important was this day at the time?
3. Consider and study the setting of your story. Describe something that happened in that same setting three years ago that has a strong effect on what is happening to your characters right now in this very same place.
(If the event has nothing to do with your characters at all, that’s fine too.)
Note: The second draft of a story is often much plumper than the first draft. It’s in the third draft that you can usually start cutting down on your prose. In the second draft, you’re still learning about the story itself. Your goal, remember, is to gain a deeper knowledge of your own story.
So give yourself permission to use your notebook liberally as you re-experience the details that are the engine of the story.