Probably a Bad Writing Habit: How I Do “Revisions”

Well, I’ve discovered a generally bad way to for me to revise things. I swear this used to work when I was younger, but that may simply be due to not knowing then what I do now. And I’ve got so much to learn.

This was the way I used to approach successive drafts of essays and stories until very recently:

  • Maybe re-read the previous draft. Skim most likely, skip a quarter of the time.

  • Ignore the previous draft and rewrite the essay/scene from scratch.

I’ve been learning, as I go through more revisions of Seal Tales 1, that I never write the same draft twice, and that the farther I get from the first draft, the more degradation I see in terms of quality and an unquantifiable element I’ll call fire.

What is fire? It’s the element of freshness, of not knowing where exactly the filled-out version of your scene will go. The groundwork might’ve been laid down by the outline, but the first full fleshing-out is then your fire draft. But as you pound revision after revision, you run the risk of banking the fire—that is, you become so familiar with the scene that you start to leave out vital information—not just backstory, but also characterization, setting, and plot—originally weaved into the first scene.

This effect is magnified greatly when you “rewrite” from scratch. New elements may be discovered, but the banking effect streaks into overtime.

And so I’m spending time consolidating drafts, with the first, fiery draft as the main body, and the new elements discovered in the second, third, and even fourth drafts weaved in. Badly, for now, but later I’ll tinker, which runs far less of a risk of banking the fire, since I’ll actually be paying attention more to what was originally there.

Mind you, this is just how I’m discovering the pitfalls of revision for myself. This doesn’t mean that it applies to you necessarily, or that revision is bad in all cases, or that burning previous drafts to the ground and starting anew is universally bad.

I’m not yet through with Seal Tales in fleshed-out form—I’ve got the outline done, though, which mitigates my sin. I’m discovering, however, that previous scenes affect so much what follows that going back and getting it mostly right is what I need to move forwards well. Otherwise I end up with useless fire, rather than fire that can be tweaked later.

Taking into account all possibilities, however, it could be the case that rewriting from scratch is actually doing me some amount of good. For example, starting from a blank slate allows me to explore alternative scenarios without being bound to the original text.

But right now it’s a bit painful for me to bear, because I want to finish this story and get right on to The Pantheon Plot again, which will be rewritten from the ground up, because hell, it hadn’t been written with a lot of what I know now.

Also, my first session in Cat Rambo’s workshop is coming up rather soon. I am, I admit, rather nervous about it all.

I’m going to finish out this post with what I am getting right. I think.

  • I’ve concluded that there are two main plot threads, both of which are necessary to show a different view of the other. Redundant plot threads that offered no extra reflection were cut out.

  • Because there are two main plot threads, there are also two main characters. Taking the common principle of reducing the number of viewpoints to only the necessary amount, there will be two viewpoints.

  • The story starts directly on the days that’re different for both main characters. One plot thread spins up two weeks after the other, because there’s nothing important happening in the other character’s timeline until that point. That doesn’t mean the character doesn’t get equal face time—indeed, as the outline currently lies, she gets more scenes than the other.

  • The story is about the most important event in both main characters’ lives up until that point in their existence.

  • Both characters have stakes that grow greater as the story progresses. They have reasons to care. Can stakes get higher than survival? Yes. Yes, they can.

Next on my list is finding ways to twist the knife in my characters. I know the knives now, which hilariously come from the villain and both mentor figures, but I haven’t had the guts to twist… yet.

All this while revising and advancing as I go along. I’ve got nearly 9k in words 2, and we’re not yet through the first act.

Oy. This isn’t going to be a short story at all. But I can certainly aggressively cut and trim afterwards… maybe.

Notes:

  1. Title change is possibly warranted. It’s not the happiest tale in the world as it stands right now. [back]
  2. And to think I used to have trouble getting to 1k words with involved scenes. [back]
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