Successfully Rewriting Existing Scenes When Expanding An Outline

palmtreesWe’ll need a bigger, better palm tree!

There are tons of degrees of rewrites: the little tweaks here and there; the nuke-it-from-orbit, scorched-earth policy; and everything in between. The sort of rewrites I’m conducting right now are part of a larger effort to expand the outline of a manuscript, all the way from A to Z. New scenes get inserted, old scenes that no longer fit get removed.

There are also plenty of previously written scenes that still fit into the outline pretty well- but by the time I’m done with Scenes A through Q and get to Scene R, for instance, so much has changed concerning events in the story, characters, etc. that Scene R as written may no longer make sense or be adequate.

So, what to do with Scene R?

There’s a strong temptation to edit Scene R in-place- leave things mostly as they are, and just fluff here and there as needed. However, I think with A through Q being different, it’s better to give R the chance to breathe and be what it needs to be now.

Here’s how I do that…

1) I avoid re-reading Scene R. By this point, it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at it (around 5 months), and I’ve forgotten most of what’s there. I don’t want to remind myself, because I might be tempted to keep things that don’t really fit anymore.

2) I open a different word processor. On my Mac, it’s TextEdit. In Windows, it would be Notepad.

3) In a fresh new document, away from my manuscript, I outline what I think Scene R should be now. I start by writing down the big events in sequence- then I go and add detail to each event, chaining them together. Sorta like this:

Characters enter The Place- describe

Character1- reaction

Character2- reaction

Characters encounter The Thing in The Place

And so on.

I have the rewrites of Scenes A-Q fresh in my mind (sort of, LOL). I know who the characters are now, versus who they were pre-expansion. I keep in mind what new events are shaping the outline and affecting the characters. I try to remember what everyone is thinking and feeling, and consider the scene from every point of view.

4) Only after I’m happy with the quasi-outline do I revisit old Scene R. Hopefully, I’m horrified by what I see! New Scene R should be better!

I take a snapshot of old Scene R using Scrivener (creating a backup copy), then go through and see if anything previously written can be salvaged for the new Scene R. Good lines, good dialogue? If so, great- I copy and paste that stuff over.

5) I delete everything in the old Scene R that no longer fits. New Scene R and the salvaged bits are pasted in its place.

6) I flesh out the new scene. In a first draft, I’m putting down sentences, not really worrying how good they are, just trying to squeeze out every detail I possibly can. I revisit the prose quality later.

This is obviously more work than just modifying old Scene R directly, but I think it leads to a better, truer result. Otherwise, there’s too much temptation to twist things to conform to what you previously wrote, even if it makes no sense, simply because that’s what you’ve already written.

How do you like to handle rewrites? Let me know in the comments!


How to Successfully Delete A Scene

marshmallow_fireKill it with fire! (Image credit: Imagebase.net)

Is there a particular scene you’re having a really hard time with? Do you dread writing it, and just can’t come up with a way to make it more significant or fun for yourself? Or have you toughed through it, but reading it over makes you cringe?

Then have you thought about deleting that sucker outright?

This scene might be taking up unnecessary space in your story outline. Maybe you can gloss over the thing with a sentence or two and move on, sparing you time- and potentially removing a part your readers would’ve glossed over or been bored through.

Here are a few characteristics of a scene ripe for deletion:

  • It does nothing to advance the plot. A side-event in which nothing significant happens. Everyone comes out of it exactly as they came in. No new information, no intrigue, no foreshadowing.
  • It does nothing to develop the world or the characters. If a scene doesn’t move the story forward, it better be showing off the world and/or characters- helping the reader to understand the context in which the story is based, and acquainting us with its participants, who are ideally challenged constantly throughout the story.
  • No conflict. The sun’s shining, everyone’s getting along, no problems lurking on the horizon. Careful- this can get Boring fast. No, not every scene needs explosions and car chases, but when everyone’s nodding along with each other, what is there to explore, reveal, question, or develop? In other words, what is there for the reader to care about?
  • Routine stuff. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “What is drama but life with the dull bits cut out?” Getting dressed, brushing teeth, feeding the cat… unless it somehow illustrates character in a significant way, the reader doesn’t need to see it. Fast forward to the next point where things get interesting.
  • Stuff that’s already been shown or explained in an earlier scene, with no extra significance. Constantly rehashing the same information- with no new facts, details, or speculation added- is not only needless, but potentially annoying to the reader. I got it the first time, thanks!

So, can you bulldoze your scene with a few recap sentences, or even a scene break (i.e. a line or set of stars * * * used to indicate transition or time passage)? Great, my work here is done!

But wait! you might be saying. Most of this scene sucks, but there are a few important things I can’t get rid of! What do I do?

If so, list out the important things your scene accomplishes. Now think: do they have to be accomplished here? Could you perhaps weave these important bits into a different scene?

I love using the technique of smashing two tepid scenes together, making a single, more interesting scene. Here’s an example…

Old Outline: First scene with a political VIP in a limousine, driving to a federal building as part of a motorcade, being followed by a crush of reporters. Second scene with the VIP at the building, having a long private conversation with his chief intel guy in a quiet conference room.

New Outline: One scene where the chief intel guy and VIP are in the limousine together, having their exchange while driving in the motorcade. They’re trying to talk as reporters shout through the windows and flashbulbs erupt around them. Now you’re adding conflict as these two allied characters struggle to concentrate around the tumult outside. You can show how these characters react to such pressure, as well as the information they’re exchanging.

Do you have any other favorite techniques for ditching unnecessary scenes? Let me know in the comments!


2015 Comfort Zone Challenge

zoey-left-4-deadBetween my German longsword and .22 revolver, I’ll be ready for the next zombie apocalypse.

We all need nudges out of our comfort zone sometimes. Trying new things, talking to new people, pushing ourselves to achieve stuff we’ve never done before- all of these help us become more interesting people. And interesting people have great stories to tell- which also makes them better writers!

So here’s my call to action: choose at least one new thing to try this year (but really, the more the better). Give it a fair shake. If you like it, great! If not, at least that’s one fewer regret you’ll have later in life. Personally, I’d rather have a ton of “Oh wells” racked up by the end than “What ifs.”

I’m still continuing swordfighting, which I took up late last year. What I’d like to add this year: target practice with firearms.

Our family unit owns a rifle and a revolver. I’ve shot the rifle once, and the revolver never. This is partly because I live in a city with no easily accessible ranges (the ones that exist require you to know a member, and go through a big process to become a member yourself). Even if you drive out to the sticks, it’s not exactly wise to just pull over to the side of the road in a spot that looks clear.

I now have an opportunity to drive to a neighboring state, where a friend owns some land and has his own range set up. So, I’d like to head out there and do some shooting some weekend this year, preferably when it’s warmer. I’m especially keen on reviewing safety measures… and if I get to try out some of my friend’s arsenal, I’m not exactly gonna complain.

My primary motivations are gaining competence in something new, spending time in a state I haven’t spent much time in, getting a little dose of rural life (shudder!), and having fun with friends and family.

…And really, the zombies won’t stand a chance.

What do you want to try this year? Throw down the gauntlet, then get out there and do it!


“One Crisis At A Time!” Using Priority to Differentiate Heroes

swatkats

Does anyone else remember Swat Kats? I love this cartoon. Razor and T-Bone are heroes with a souped-up fighter jet, hearts of gold, and a common goal: protecting MegaKat City from villains. However, they sometimes disagree on how to go about it. Razor’s more cautious, strategic, and sensitive. T-Bone’s the stubborn tough-guy who relies on muscle and insane piloting stunts. So it’s not surprising that they come up with different ideas for handling a situation, or disagree on what their top priority should be.

It’s also not surprising they handle disputes differently. T-Bone has no qualms ignoring Razor, or shouting him down. Razor will try to argue his point, but often gives up once he realizes T-Bone’s not listening. Then there are other times when T-Bone relies on Razor to do all of the thinking. However they resolve their disagreements, they do resolve them- always in time to save the city.

In a story, your characters are juggling tasks, mysteries, grudges- all sorts of issues. There’s a lot of ways they could approach those problems. But when you have a set of characters working together, it can be easy to have them fall into lock-step, all of them going through and addressing things in this order without any debate because, well, that’s the order you envisioned.

Instead, think more like Swat Kats. Characters may all want to do the right thing, but they may not fully agree on what that is. One guy may think THIS is the top priority, while someone else thinks THAT is. Or they may agree on priority, but not on approach.

Play up these disagreements, and their consequences! The reader learns a lot about each character involved by seeing (a) what everyone values most, and (b) how everyone handles conflict. This also livens up scenes that would otherwise be boring because the people in them are just nodding along with each other. Yep, time to go save the Mayor again, I guess…!

What’s your favorite example of a good-guy team that have their differences, but always set them aside in time to save the day?