Sunday, April 27, 2014

Trusting Instinct

Over the past few weeks, as I approach the end of a work-in-progress, I find myself spending a good deal of time revising and thinking about the final chapters.

These chapters have changed dramatically since I started out. Indeed, the entire book has changed. It has deepened. It has become more of a story.

I’m sure the manuscript will need another pass or two, maybe more, before I feel that it’s ready to share with readers.

As I begin the next draft, reading and rereading each chapter, I realize that I keep asking myself a number of questions.

There's one question in particular that helps me during this process. After rereading a passage, a paragraph, a sentence, I'll ask: Is it thinking or is it story?

The difference between “thinking” and “story” may seem obvious, but it isn’t always apparent on the page. Sometimes thinking is part of the story and vice versa.

But if I look for a scene—with a beginning and middle and end—then I can usually rely on the frame of that scene (or lack of frame) to help me identify if a passage is working as story rather than as a collection of abstract thoughts.

Another question that I'll ask: Are these concrete details? That’s another clue.

Also, I’ll ask if anything is happening? Has anything changed? Is anything in the process of changing?

These are crucial questions to building a story.

Each time I look at the pages, I get a clearer sense of the words on the page, the sequence of events, the shape of the story that I’m trying to tell.

Writing this way is like feeling for steps in the dark.

But even in the dark I can feel when the steps are too close together or too far apart because I’ll trip or fall or flail as a reader, and that’s when I realize that I need to take something out or put something in.

And that’s how I move toward the end of the story. I move forward in the dark, blindly feeling my way, relying on some kind of internal GPS to navigate my way in the dark, to follow a path I can’t yet see, or, rather, to carve a path in the direction I seem to need to go.

Trusting instinct is essential to the revision process, even if it takes me in the opposite direction of where I think I should be.

My instinct tells me something important about each revision: where I think I should be isn’t always the same place as where I need to be.

1 comment:

Anita Diggs said...

You are right on! I completely agree with your process of editing, to find that beginning, middle, and end. A key to writing a great scene is that each scene should have a beginning, a middle and end. A scene should have a reason for existing. I've seen scenes where say two girlfriends are sitting there talking and the dialogue may be crisp, maybe it's even funny, but the scene, when you think about the plot as a whole, it doesn't advance the plot at all. It doesn't give us anything that's going to move that plot forward.