Friday 14th August 2020
I’m actually thinking that 2020 might turn out to be the Year of Theme rather than the Year Of Everything On Fire.
One of my big growths as an author this year is really looking at theme and seeing how to integrate it more into my work. Instead of being an afterthought used to describe what I’ve just written, it’s something that’s incorporated into outline or draft from the outset.
I suspect I’m a little over-reliant on it at the moment. It’s shiny and new and I want to play with it a lot. But it’s certainly a truth that I think I’m writing better stories now it’s no longer a post-completion descriptor.
So currently, I have a number of small tasks I’m working on before kicking off a big new project. One of those is to take an old novel and prep it so I could do a rewrite at some point in the future. Over the years I’ve developed methods and skills for doing this, and I want to get this manuscript prepared so that I can work the way I work now.
This novel feels very much like it was much more pantsed than planned. I certainly used to be a pantser (where I have an idea of a start, some key scenes, the end and nothing much more) and Black As Knight was my first foray into planning. But going back to those early novels feels so alien to how I work now.
The work I want to do is more technical than creative. I use Scrivener to write my novels and over the years have got better at using the advanced features to help me structure and manage my novels.
Structure is key here. Scrivener splits a manuscript into scenes. A chapter could be a single scene or a group. I tend to work with chapters. Given Scrivener’s corkboard mode, this gives me key moments (I don’t want to say scenes as I don’t want to confuse this with the Scrivener technical definition of a scene). I can put these on the corkboard and get a visual representation of how a story flows. Where there are secondary characters or additional plot arcs, I can use labeling or colouring to again get a visual representation of the flow.
It’s also a lot easier (at least for me) to look at any one of these chapters and ask questions of it. How is this moving the story forward? What does this do to the characters?
This is where theme now plays a part in the early creation of the story. So looking at this novel tonight, I spent a lot of time playing with the messy manuscript trying to establish the theme. I dug out the various plot arcs and compared and contrasted them. What I was looking for was some commonality.
Now, this draft came from a singular mind at one point in time, so of course, elements of plot A are going to feed into plot B. Even from a character perspective, the protagonist going to bring things from plot A to plot B. The trick is to find them.
I don’t believe there’s any right answer here. At one stage I really thought the theme was loyalty. I could have quite happily taken that and run with it. But gut feeling said to keep looking. I’m wanting to use this theme to enhance the story and whilst there is betrayal, I felt there was something better than loyalty that could be used to help increase stakes.
In the end I settled on trust. That mainly came from looking at various parts of the story and thinking how trust could be a central theme within that scene. There’s every possibility that as I play around, I find I was wrong and I should have gone with loyalty or something completely different instead.
The next job is to organise the story. Currently it’s a sequence of Scrivener scenes. I thought I was being clever not having chapters. I need them for my current working process. Please refer me to this edition of The Climb if I ever decide not to have chapters again in the future and find myself struggling.
I’m going to do something quite radical here: I’m going to start again. That doesn’t mean a blank document. Far from it. What I’m going to do is build a new manuscript above the existing one. I’m not 100% sure how I’m going to do this but I think I’m going to create two folders under the manuscript folder: One for draft 1 and another from draft 2.
Draft 2 will have the scenes rebuilt from scratch, but very much based on the story of draft 1. OK, so the character does X at the start of draft 1… how do I make that a chapter? And by that I’m not just asking how much I copy and paste from draft 1 into chapter 1, draft 2. What’s the chapter arc? Where there seem gaps, what elements of theme can I pull on? I want to give each chapter a summary that when I do come to rewrite, I have a clear understanding of what elements are needed.
This is where theme comes in. In creating chapter arcs, I’m going to be constantly asking myself how this fits in with the theme. As I try and cut this novel into pieces and create chapters, it’s going to be the theme that guides me as to what elements I should pull on some more to fill in the gaps. It’s theme that’s going to make me look at the protagonists arc and ensure that there’s a clear story here rather than them bumbling around to the end.
Sure, if I like bits of prose, I can easily copy and paste them across from Draft 1, but at this stage, it’s really about creating the shell into which the story will fit. This is creating the Jelly mold, not the actual jelly.
As I said, this isn’t something I need to be working on right now, and I could find myself suddenly needing to divert my time elsewhere. But even if I don’t ever end up rewriting this novel, I’m finding the challenge of restructuring it (both in terms of story and technically within Scrivener) a fun learning experience that I’m sure will be of benefit in the future.
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