Don’t Fear the Rewrite – Embrace It
What is it about your favorite novel that makes it your favorite? For me, it’s a few things.
I love a likable character, one to which I can relate. One that makes me feel what he or she feels, that makes me believe what he or she is going through is real. I want to live whatever life they are living. I want to experience everything they experience, both the good and the bad. I want to be transported into their world…
Which leads to my second point…
I love books with believable worlds, where the author has done a fantastic job at world building. I want to believe the place truly exist, that the rules and laws the writer has established are well thought out. I want to feel as if I am a part of that world.
I love novels that paint vivid descriptions. A novel that transports me to a particular time and space so that I feel the cold and hear the hard-packed frozen earth crunch underneath heavy footsteps. A novel that allows me to hear a twig snap in the otherwise quiet wilderness.
I love to read books that are packed with action and filled with emotion.
And perhaps most importantly, I don’t want my favorite books to end.
So, what does all this have to do with rewriting? Well, as a more seasoned writer who has learned through trial and error and a lot of heart ache to embrace my characters and to live and grow with them, the rationalization behind it is simple. Know what you love about a novel and then strive through the rewriting process to ensure that your work mimics the work of those novels.
BUT…..BUT…BUT… It wasn’t always that easy!
When I first began to write creatively I was asked by my critique group what my main character was thinking and feeling and what he smelled as he walked through the kitchen. They wanted to know what? I sure as heck didn’t know the answers. And as embarrassing as it is now for me to admit, I really didn’t care. Because, like… how would those answers have anything to do with my story? I’d thought I’d gotten involved with a bunch of crazies. Thankfully, I continued attending the critique sessions, continued to read and to write, although thoroughly confused about what it was they were asking of me.
It wasn’t until I was writing a story about a guy in a wheelchair that I got what they were talking about. I easily became the main character in my story. Why? Because I use a wheelchair in real life. I was able to relate, able to understand what he was going through. Little by little, over the course of weeks and months that followed, I learned how to get close to all of my characters in that same way, learned it was vital to include the type of sensory details my writer’s group had asked for me to include.
Now, I always ask my characters the same questions my writer’s group asked me. Those, and a lot more. I ask my characters what they know, what they love, what they think and what they feel. I ask them why and what and how. If they don’t give me the answer that I need, I ask again. And again. I think of them as children, children who do not always want to be forthright with the answers to my question. (Those of you with kids of your own will easily understand.) Eventually, I find the answers I need, although it may not always be what I expect or what I am looking for. I let my characters guide me. I let them tell the story.
Recently, while writing the first draft of my latest novel, I introduced a character into the beginning of the story, but finished that draft without using him again. Something was wrong with that picture. His appearance in the beginning was too important for him to be ignored. I didn’t lose sleep over this particular fact, and eventually, about one half of the way through my second rewrite, while brushing my teeth no less, he spoke to me. He told me how he was to be used. His answer was as clear as if I were living through him, or he, through me. I knew when he was to reappear. Where it would happen. How it would happen. How often it would happen.
Whether good or bad, while rewriting, I often find myself living in another world, the world I’ve created. At times, when driving, I find I’ve driven miles without remembering the actual drive because I’m living different scenes of my novel. Sometimes, my children, or my wife (this is when it can get bad), accuse me of not paying attention, of not listening to what they have to say. Of course, I deny it, but I know it’s true. And for those times when I’m smack in the middle of creative thought, I accept it as necessary because then, and only then, am I able to embrace the rewrite so that my writing will then become like the novels I love to read.
A psychologist would probably tell me the ideas that come my way are courtesy of my subconscious. They’d say I was crazy if I’d tell them my characters spoke to me. I’d tell them that’s only because they’re not listening.