Friday, 3 May 2013

Smashed to Pieces: Thoughts on Rewriting


Have you ever seen those mosaics made from broken china? (Besides in the picture to the left, I mean.) People use them for garden stones, patio table tops, and other decorative purposes They’re really quite beautiful, not to mention it’s a great way of recycling a dish that might be chipped and otherwise useless. Still, there’s something I find sort of unsettling about smashing apart an object that’s relatively whole and lovely, even if you’re making something new out of it. Call me crazy, but I’d miss what it used to be at least a little.

I mentioned recently that I had to rewrite a certain chapter in my manuscript. That ordeal reminded me very much of the process of making mosaics. Somehow it felt aggressive to me, like I was shattering something I loved into sharp, little bits and creating more of a mess than anything. I didn’t really want to do it, but I knew I had to. Ironically, I had to destroy something that was, in a sense, chipped or cracked in order to create something new and better.

When this comparison came to mind, I watched a couple Youtube videos to see how it’s done. Technically, you don’t smash a dish in order to prepare the pieces. There’s actually a tool for breaking chunks off. It’s still not very precise, but that’s part of the charm of it. The result is pieces that are all different shapes and sizes that can be arranged in an entirely new way. See where I’m going with this?

So I broke apart my chapter and decided which shards I needed to preserve and which had to be discarded (sniffle). Then I fit some brand new pieces into the spaces. And to my surprise, I think they actually fit better than the story chunks that were there before. The whole feel of the scene was very different. It maintained the important details and accomplished the same purpose, but the overall picture was superior to the original in many ways.

Now, after filling in the seams with metaphorical grout, I’m doing the final polishing. And I’m looking forward to doing a complete read through to see how the new and improved chapter flows with the rest of the story.

On my sister’s blog, she recently used the analogy of sewing a quilt to explain her rewriting process. What about you? Have you had to rewrite any major scenes lately? What would you compare your process to?

24 comments:

  1. I'm currently in the (long) process of co-authoring a fantasy novel and it's gone through many incarnations since conception. We've cut out about a third of the original manuscript, a plot strand that just wasn't working, and now we're making more edits and it looks as if another character will have to go because there are too many PoVs in there. I'd compare the process to pruning a fruit tree, taking off some of the smaller branches to ensure that the ones that were left bore more fruit.

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    1. That sounds like a huge undertaking. I love your analogy of pruning a tree. Trimming away some of the less necessary details is something I'm trying hard to do. I have a tendency to be wordy, and discerning what should be cut out is a real learning process. I guess this is where the old saying "less is more" is often true. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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  2. Making a mosaic is a very good way of looking at rewrites. You keep the best looking pieces and scrap the rest.

    I like to think of it as shuffling cards, like when you've got a pack splayed out on the table and you need to shuffle them into a neat deck. Everything has its place, but it just needs a little help getting there.

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    1. I like your card analogy too. It takes into account the whole rearranging aspect of rewriting. I recently revamped my first chapter and found that shuffling around the order of events solved some of my issues, so this is really fitting!

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  3. This is pretty much exactly what it's like. And I can completely relate. I'm about a third of the way through my rewrite (not sure I can call it that), and it's both challenging and kind of satisfying at the same time. There are parts that I'm bummed to see go, but others that are kind of facepalmworthy and NEED to go. I think it's great practice for everyone to have to completely rewrite something. I hear edits can sometimes be brutal at the publishing level, so the more experience with doing this now, the better.

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    1. I never really thought about needing practice at rewriting in terms of the actual unraveling part, but now that you mention it, I think that's very true. In one of our recent Skype sessions, you said you were trying to figure out the best way to tackle your rewrite, because no matter how you went about it the process seemed disorganized. I'm pretty sure you figured it out, but it seems that the more times you have to rewrite, the better you become at strategizing and organizing(and I use "you" in a general sense here). Good point!

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  4. I'm doing the same thing on a chapter or two of mine that just doesn't work right. How you describe it is a great way of looking at it.

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    1. Good luck in figuring out your rewrite too then! :)

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  5. I usually just scrap a whole chapter and keep the idea. Then I start to rewrite the chapter.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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    1. In my case, I needed to keep key pieces of information and the basic idea needed to change. Confusing, I know. I can see how starting with a blank slate would be a good approach though. :)

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  6. What Gina said - I drop the whole section and start over. I usually don't rewrite whole chapters, but I don't divide my manuscripts into chapters until the very last thing.

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    1. Fortunately, there was a nice chunk I was able to keep towards the end, and it only needed some minor changes. A lot hinged on this chapter in the last third of the book, so scrapping the entire thing wasn't an option, although about a week or two ago that would have sounded very appealing!

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  7. Interesting comparison! I had no idea there was a special tool for breaking it apart! And for me I have to write the new part by hand (but then I always write everything by hand before entering it into the computer), and then I print out the chapter and work the new part in that way. I'm definitely hands-on with revising!!

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    1. I didn't know there was a special tool either until I did some research. I always pictured someone taking a hammer to the plate to smash it into bits. Probably not the best way to go about it! I can see why you do your writing and revising by hand. I used to and somewhere along the line I gradually transferred to working on the computer. Sometimes my brain still works better with a pen than computer keys though, and when it comes to planning, everything is in my handy dandy notebook. :)

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  8. I love this analogy, and I loved Jaime's quilting analogy as well. Both ring true for me and I can definitely relate, as I am currently in the piecing-it-all-back-together stage. Best of luck with your rewriting, Erin!

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    1. Thanks Katy, and I hope your piecing-it-all-back-together process is going well too! :)

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  9. This is a pretty good analogy for how I rewrite this things! Very cool image. :) Sometimes, though, I start to feel like I'm bogging myself down by trying to piece the same material back together, and would be better off starting from scratch with the scene. (Whether or not I actually DO that in every situation is another story...)

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    1. Originally, I tried to replace a few paragraphs in the chapter to see if that would make a difference, but it wasn't enough. Like you said, I was bogging myself down, so I pared everything back to what needed to be there. Thankfully, I was able to salvage some bits and pieces of the first half of the chapter and then a big chunk toward the end. Glad you liked the mosaic analogy :)

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    2. Saying you "pared everything back..." reminded me of a revision analogy Tyler-Rose used one time that was quite effective--she had to trim a rose bush, and to do it correctly meant really blunting the stems and making it look kind of small and ugly at first. But that was what she needed to do. Chop it down to essentials. I think some cases take rearranging and some just take the delete key. And most take both. :)

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  10. Last March I finished a radical rewrite and restructuring of one of my older manuscripts, and am going to have to do the same for several of my other earlier books. I basically had to junk most of the original Part I, insert germane bits and pieces of it throughout the book, and add a number of new chapters to pad out the gaps in the timeline. I'm glad I was able to get through that, since not only did it bring the length from novella to novel territory, but it also actually developed a full, coherent story. The original Part I was like 95% biographical sketches of each character, his or her family, the neighborhood, and what the world was like in 1938. I'm kind of glad I prematurely stopped querying it 12 years ago, since it was nowhere near ready for primetime at that point!

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    1. It's amazing how much a story can change from the first draft and how stepping back for a good long while can make you see it in a completely different light. That's great that your story was able to survive the rewriting process and actually transform into something you were much happier with.

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  11. I'd never thought of the process as a mosaic, but that's exactly what revision and rewriting is! Lovely.

    I'm glad you found a new way to layout your chapter. I spent most of April doing the exact same thing. I had certain emotions and lines I had to hit, but I needed a new setting, a new set-up, and even different characters in parts.

    Also, I had no idea you and Jaime were sisters! I love her blog - I'll go over now and check out the quilt article - sounds fun.

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    1. I'm relieved it worked out. Because the whole story was already written and revised several times, it was an even more difficult decision to up and rip apart a chapter. Your rewrite sounds fairly similar to mine. I hope it turned out well too. That's funny you didn't realize Jaime and I are sisters! I just always assume people know that now. I guess Jaime and I should have done some sort of joint blog post to introduce ourselves as siblings. :)

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  12. ...interesting analogy, Erin. And yes, this process can indeed make for an aggravating day in front of the computer. I often compare it to assembling a jigsaw puzzle. One piece here, another over there, and eventually the picture takes shape.

    Great post ;)

    El

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