Writing is rewriting

Finnegans Afoot, the novel I’m currently working on, takes place in part along the Ozark Trail in southern Missouri. As I am imagining the story, I feel a bit like I’m on a winding trail myself. I know where I’m supposed to finish, but I’m discovering all sorts of new scenery along the way. (Actually, that’s not a very good metaphor for what I want to say right now, but writing is rewriting.)

Anyway, there is a scene I will need to write for the climax of the story that involves a visit to a rocky outcropping along the side of the trail. My characters had passed this spot earlier in Chapter Four, but my description was cursory. At the time, I merely needed to set its location relatively close to the bed and breakfast where they are staying so that one of the characters can return to it at the end of the story for the big revelation of the mystery.

The further down the trail I got in writing the story, though, the more I understood that I needed to make this earlier visit to the outcropping more vivid for the reader. If it was going to be the setting for the story’s climax, I realized that I needed to have it more fixed in the reader’s mind.

And so, writing is rewriting. I went back to Chapter Four and joined my hikers along the trail, stopping them at the outcropping and giving them a chance to rest on the boulders while I did more exposition.

It was tough going for me though. I have no trouble with “pencil work” where I am changing a word or two in prose I’ve already written to make it stronger or clearer. I do that pretty regularly as a way to warm up for the day’s writing session. The reworking of part of Chapter Four, however, called for re-imagining a scene I had left far behind on the trail. It meant re-purposing the scene to do more duty in the story.

The trouble I faced was that the scene as I had originally written it was so established in my memory that I really had to fight with myself to see how I could adjust it. My mind fell into the groove of words that I had written before and I couldn’t find room among them to fit any other words in.

The re-write of this section involved more than adding a few words, of course. I had to change the flow of the plotting here. I had to yank out some of the characters’ observations to slip in elsewhere (or to discard entirely) and I had to add others.

Had I known at the time I was writing it that I needed to presage this setting, I don’t think I would have had any trouble at all. I simply would have done the descriptive work as part of the story development when it flowed from my fingertips. Going back, though, changing what has already been fixed in my mind and then making it all work together and read smoothly was tough work. I had to get my mind out of the groove that the existing words led it into. I had to conceive the scene again even as the words I was reading tried to force me to see the scene in its original way.

I think I managed to do it. Writing is rewriting, and I’ll visit this chapter again when I have the whole story finished because then I will know exactly what must be done in advance. The further reworking will be easier then.

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