Friday, May 16, 2014

An Exercise in Visualization (Revising Edition)

So, last month I blogged about creating a collage of pictures to help visualize two of my main characters.  In addition to that, I’ve also recently created a visual representation of the rough draft for my current WIP.  I first got the idea after listening to Jody Casella (a fellow writer, friend, and author of the awesome book Thin Space) talk about the revising process.  She showed pictures of how various writers visualize their books and I thought that might be a great idea for me.  When you write over 300 pages and 90,000 words, it’s really difficult to keep it all straight in your head, particularly when you’ve been working on the same draft for almost 9 months (ugh…that looks even more depressing when I read it in black and white).

When I started this process, I tried to remember how I’d revised my last novel and I honestly couldn’t remember what I’d done.  That’s probably because I didn’t do a heck of a lot. When I finished that rough draft, I just scrolled to the top of the document and started rereading and tweaked anything that didn’t seem to work.  I never printed out the book and read it start to finish.  I never looked at the overall plot structure or asked questions about how my characters were developing.  In short, I never truly revised that novel—I just fixed grammatical problems and fine-tuned the existing scenes.  That obviously didn’t work out so well the first time around, so with this second novel I’ve really tried to do things right.

I liked the method Laurie Halse Anderson (of Speak fame) uses when laying out her drafts and decided to follow the instructions she gives on her blog. I bought an oversized roll of craft paper at Ikea and then listed (from left to right): the location, day, and time of each scene; the chapter #; a short description of each individual scene within that chapter; the “type” of scene it was (mostly dialogue vs. internal vs. action, etc); and any notes/problems I saw with the scene. It took a surprisingly long time to create this, but here’s how it turned out:

As you can see, I needed 3+ large sheets to outline the rough draft completely.  It was definitely a learning process and I think even my visualization needs some more visualization before I try this again.  The three pages are a little cumbersome (they’re taking over one whole corner of my office right now) so I think it would be better if I could write a shorter summary of the chapters.  It might also be good to add the page length of each chapter to see how much that varies.  Having said that, I’m definitely really glad that I took the time to do this. A few things I learned from the process were:

1) I’m horrible at keeping track of the day and time of my scenes. 

It was a little embarrassing how quickly I would forget this and need to reread a previous chapter to find out.  Given how crucial it is to know if its morning or night, Monday or Saturday, I’m definitely glad I have this to orient me.  This also taught me to just write all of this at the beginning of each chapter from now on.

2) Ditto with location.

It’s not so much that I didn’t know the location of my characters, but instead that I didn’t realize how many scenes took place in the main character’s house (or someone else’s house) until I wrote it all out.  In my head it seemed natural, but this allowed me to see that it was getting monotonous.

3) I love dialogue.  LOVE it.

Again, I didn’t notice how many chapters were entirely scenes of two people talking to each other until I had to write out that scene again and again…and again.  Unfortunately, this is a harder one to fix and I’m still dealing with it on my second draft.  Perhaps I’ll have another blog post in the future about my addiction. J

4) I have about as many notes/problems written down as I have plot summary.

Hmm, not the greatest sign, but I guess that makes sense for a first draft.  I highlighted those to keep them separate visually, and it is pretty depressing to see so much yellow all over the pages.  The one upside is that all of my criticisms are in one place so I can easily read over the notes and make sure I’m fixing things.

There are certainly other things I learned through this process (like the fact that I needed to rewrite the first half of the book from scratch given the horrid beginning), but probably the biggest thing I learned was that I need to start revising by looking at the book as a whole and deciding whether the main story arc and character development makes sense. This seems supremely obvious now, but it doesn’t always feel that way when you’re in the trenches. I think this technique is one way to help start that process so I’ll be doing this again whenever I finish draft #2.  I think it’s still going to be awhile.

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