brni (brni) wrote,

Adventures in words - how to throw them away

On the Writers' Coffeehouse mailing list, someone asked a question about rewriting an old story.

How does a writer remove the words that are on the paper from his or her head and start over? I'm trying to write but all I can think about are the words that already are there.

I posted the following as a response:

Print the story. (double spaced, so you can scribble notes)

Read the story. Every time the words on the page are being imparted by the author instead of being shown through the perspective or actions of one of the characters, identify it (circle, underline, whatever).

Now go through and for each of these things, ask if it is something that the reader *really needs* to know for the story to make sense. A lot of these, for me, occur while I'm trying to find the story, and the ending of the story. They're the things that *I* need to know in order to understand how to get through the story, but they are not something that the reader needs. I've cut a thousand words from an 8000 word story this way.

For the bits that you're telling that don't get cut away in the previous step, figure out which character they are relevent to, and rewrite it to be shown through that characters actions/thoughts/etc.

There's another way to tackle the problem, that may or may not be useful, depending on the nature of the story itself.

Convert the existing (notgood) story into an outline of what happens. Rewrite from scratch, using the outline as a reference point. But - and this is the key bit - rewrite it with a different voice. Modify some key bit of the narrative perspective - past tense vs present tense, first person vs third person, change the POV character. It's like changing a lens on a camera - sometimes that's what you need to see the things that you were overlooking before, the thing that opens new possibilities. It may be that this new format isn't what the story ultimately needs, but it'll give you a fresh look at things, and let you go back to the old story with new elements.


On the more personal front: I spent yesterday wearing my editor hat, both for my work and for others'.

Back on the writing horse today, I discovered quickly that I had taken a wrong turn on the steampunk story, and all the words that I wrote 2 days ago are - not worthless - but unusable. The section taught me a lot about one of the two POV characters, and a little bit about the other. But it made him too sympathetic too fast. He's a fucking punk, in a gang that mugs people and robs houses, and that section made him nice, with no real reason to get involved in the shit I'm about to put him through. So, scrap that whole scene. 726 words gone, in one swell foop. Instead, we'll go to a scene that kicks the first poo that starts the pending shitstorm.

Untitled Pirate Novel: 691 words
Untitled Steampunk Story: 1061 new words, minus the 726 I can't (*sob*) use.
Total new words: 1752

Excerpt, from the steampunk story:

Benny just smiles. Something in Evan's gut twists. What's he doing?

Sideburns takes a step toward Benny, raises the poker. "I've a mind to put you over my knee," he says.

Benny's smile widens. He reaches into his pocket. Which, Evan notices, hangs much heavier now than it had just a few minutes earlier. When Benny pulls his hand back out, there's a revolver in it, gleaming silver under the half-lit moon, already cocked.

"Fug you," Benny says. Calm as death.
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