Rewrites: Don’t Let the Red Ink Give You the Blues

When I finished my recent rough draft of Aether Legions, over ninety thousand words, I celebrated briefly. Next I sent my work to trusted writing companions to review and provide commentary on. When I say ‘trusted’ I mean that I value and encourage their criticisms and they’ve no compunctions about pointing out the flaws in my work. It’s very important to have that first gut check come from trusted sparring partners. Every blow they drive home now helps me dodge the harsher, more punishing criticism of strangers in the wide world.

So, I’m glad I handled the rewrite notes alone in my home. My critic-friends might not want to know how much I cussed at all the red ink staring back at me. Grateful though I am, those pages seemed so pristine in my mind’s eye before I sent my work out. And as grumpy as I became  I also knew I’d look back and thank those folks for saving me from my own faults.

With all that in mind, here’s a short list of common areas I rework and rewrite.

Gaps: Imagine going to the movies and seeing a film and then writing it all down for others to enjoy. That’s how my process largely works. But as I get caught up in the actions and the props it all stems from a scene I’ve already seen. Often I fail to properly set the scene; someone gets up from their computer but I never established that’s where they were sitting in the first place.

Redundancy: Get really excited about something and you’re bound to discuss it a little longer than some folks care for. Spend months writing scenes that span a couple of hours and that repetition can really stack if you don’t reread what you’ve already written.

Wording: Like redundancy, some words can get overused on the same page or a word that accurately describes what you’re saying might have another connotation that runs counter to your scene or subverts it. If you shoot someone a glance and subsequently shoot a gun it can have a jarring effect on the way the scene reads. I don’t like to use the word wriggle in a serious scene even if that’s what the character has to do to escape his handcuffs.

Tone: I read another author’s work where zombies were running amok in a horrific way; children were massacred and transformed into monsters. As the protagonist and friends fought their way to safety the bantered back and forth as they annihilated these creatures that had only recently been lovable people. While one and the other’s just fine, I had a hard time keeping my reading mind in the mood; much like a fart in the middle of a hot date.

Voices: The rough draft is just that, rough. When I’m hammering out dialogue my main focus is to get the things said that communicate what the scene dictates. Later I review all dialogue and attempt to put finishing touches on each character’s voice so the dialogue from the old frumpy grandpa doesn’t include the kind of wording used by the sexy librarian.

So that’s my short list; there’s plenty more. I recently had to excise a character from several scenes because somehow I forgot he’d already died a gruesome death in Part One. If there’s any last thought I’d like to leave you with…

Don’t let a little (or a lot) of red ink ruin your day because in the end it’ll make your finished product tell the tale you had in you all along.

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