OpenFiction [Blog]

Drafting – Opportunities

Posted in Uncategorized by scarsonmsm on July 25, 2005

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I find it particularly difficult in redrafting to remain open to opportunities, and increasingly so the more times I’ve written though a passage. On the second or third draft, it’s still relatively easy for me to crack open a passage, add and remove text, and insert whole scenes. But once I’ve done four or five drafts, it begins to feel like the tracks are laid and it becomes harder to reimagine the piece, and especially the opportunities within. I often catch myself on autopilot in redrafts, simply retyping and noodling with phrasing, rather than redrafting in any real way.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had figured out what I did not want in an added scene between Foster and Annabel–which was good to know–but I hadn’t until this morning figured out what I did want in that scene. I was trying to sort through a number of problems, including the general issue of the relationship developing too quickly and Annabel sharing a very personal piece of her past too easily. Beyond that, I also have a chapter immediately following that goes back to Foster’s childhood and revisits the death of his mother, and there was no logic in the story as to why this chapter is there. It was written as a piece of back story originally, and I was considering cutting it from the current draft.

I think now, though, that I’ve provided myself an opportunity in adding this scene that will address these multiple problems. Foster is by far more impulsive and open that Annabel, and if in the added scene he shares something about the death of his mother–and he can surprise himself with his openness even–then it deepens the relationship in a meaningful way, makes Annabel’s subsequent revelations a measured reciprocation rather than a spontaneous opening up, and also provides the story some logic for circling back to revisit this episode in Foster’s life. It’s an unusual moment in a redraft when I am able to solve multiple issues like this and make substantive improvements. I’d like to find ways to make myself more open to these opportunities.


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  1. Anonymous said, on July 26, 2005 at 1:30 pm

    You’ve touched on a problem I often encounter with my students– revision as adding or subtracting but not truly re-seeing; that is re-visioning in the real sense of the word. Can you offer any insight into how one might teach a student to make this leap from one to the other?

  2. Stephen Carson said, on July 27, 2005 at 5:40 am

    Caveat here is that I have trouble with this in classes. I think most writing instructors struggle with this, though. The things I’ve found to be most effective–for me and for students–are:

    Limiting the goals for revision. I certainly can’t work with the nonspecific idea of just making the work better, and I can’t keep in my head more than three very specific goals, so identifying the three specific things I’m trying to accomplish in redraft is really helpful to me. I often write these goals in the margin of the previous draft to remind me.

    Lowering the stakes for the author. I think, especially for inexperienced writers, writing a Second Draft can be very intimidating, especially because as instructors we often insist on Substantial Revision. I think new writer generally do better if they focus on just redrafting a small piece of the larger work, especially if they are asked to redraft it in a number of different ways, or using different approaches. If they know they are going to only redraft one page, but have to take three different approaches to doing it, the are more likely to experiment and reimagine, which can provide direction for redrafting the piece as a whole.

    Writing exercises. What If? has a lot of really great writing exercises for cracking open a fictional scene and cause new things to happen, but I’m not sure what the corollaries would be for expository writing.

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