Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Step Back: A Wider Perspective

The library. For a reader or writer, it’s close to paradise. Imagine you’re in a new library for the first or second time, exploring the shelves that make up your favorite section or genre. You sidle past, one step at a time, eyes lingering on the covers and titles as your fingers trail along behind you. Every once in a while, when a title catches your eye, you pull the book from the shelf and read the summary, then place the tome either back on the shelf or on the stack you clutch to your chest.

                You near the end of the shelves, eyes still skimming across the beloved books. There are still so many books on the shelves. The load in your arms seems puny, by comparison. But the rejections keep coming. That one doesn’t look interesting to me. That one I’ve already read. I don’t like that author, usually. I’ve heard that book isn’t very good.

                Finally you reach the very end, and have a certain melancholic confidence that the books you’ve selected are the best ones on the shelves. They are the elite. The treasures. The rest are simply there to fill the shelves, or to supplement a less discerning reader, or one with different tastes.

                You curl up in one of the chairs provided, selecting one of your finds to begin reading. You glance over at the shelves…

                And spot a cover that catches your interest. And another, and another, and another. What is this? How did you miss them the first time? And why could you only notice them after taking a few steps back?

                The same thing happens in our writing. We’re caught up in a scene, or a character, or a train of thought that moves faster than your fingers can type. We’re excited! This is the best story we’ve ever written! Everything is so perfect!

                As any participant of NaNoWriMo can tell you, this feeling has the potential to carry you all the way to a ‘The End’. But after the ‘The End’, when you want to start the revision process and turn it into a work that other people can read without burning their eyes out of their skulls, this feeling can be very, very bad.

                Take a step back. Look at it the way you’d look at one of the books you pulled off a library shelf. Forget for a few seconds that you wrote this monster of awesomeness, and look at it from a calm, unbiased point of view. If you can’t get yourself into that mindset at the drop of a hat, then put the story away for a while, or work on something else. Then come back to it, but be careful to leave that step between yourself and the work.

                Read it. Just like you’d read any other book.

                Suddenly, our fantastic characters look fantastically flat. Their actions throughout the story don’t seem to have much purpose, and the world we made up is just one big cliché. Why didn’t we notice these things before? Why didn’t we notice how pointless this scene was, or how nonsensical our villains’ actions were?

                It’s okay. We can fix them. We just have to take a step back, see where we have problems, and then ask ourselves some questions.

What’s motivating our character? How is the setting affecting them, and what makes the setting interesting to the reader? How does a certain chain of events fit together? Which scenes were so fun to write that you dragged them out way longer than they deserved, and what are some ways we can close up that gaping plot hole that seems big enough to be a portal into Narnia?

Who knows? Maybe you’ll finally figure out how to tie things together perfectly in a place where you struggled the first time around.

Take the step back and look at your story from a wider perspective. You’ll be surprised what you might realize in the process.

So, readers. Have you ever finished a story only to notice a real ‘Duh’ moment? Do you find it hard to take that step back, or simple? Are you still having trouble realizing when a scene you write is less than perfect? Or maybe your problem is taking the step forward while writing, and you find it hard to forget about all your story’s problems. I’d love to know your thoughts.

((Btw, for those who are interested, I won Camp NaNoWriMo on the 15th with 50,086 words. Since then, I’m… Taking a break? XD))

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