Friday, March 18, 2022

Karen S. Wiesner: Advance Your Career: Writing in Stages, Part 3

 Writer's Craft Article by Karen S. Wiesner

Advance Your Career:

Writing in Stages, Part 3

Based on CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}

This is the third of four articles with techniques to advance your writing career. 

In the previous part of this article, we talked about the first three steps in writing in stages. Let's continue. 

Stage 4: Setting aside the project 

You’ve probably noticed that three of the nine (four if you use all eleven) stages are setting the project aside. Letting your project sit, out of sight and out of mind, for a couple weeks--or even months--in between stages will provide you with a completely fresh perspective. Distance gives you objectivity and the ability to read your own work so you can progress further with it, adding more layers and dimensions to your characters, plots, and relationships. Another reason for setting projects aside between stages is that writers may reach a point where their motivation lags, and they want to abandon the story. Sometimes the author may not feel inspired to write a book he's just spent weeks or even months outlining (note that I've never spent more than 1-3 weeks outlining but other authors might not have the same experience I have), just as he may not want to revise something he's spent weeks or months writing.

Setting a project aside between the various stages it goes through also allows your creativity to be at its peak. The process becomes easier, too, and your writing will be the best it can be. Putting a work-in-progress on a back burner for an extended period of time will allow you to see more of the connections that make a story multidimensional.

To set your project aside between stages, return everything to your story folder. Keep this book on a shelf and on the back burner in your mind for as long as you possibly can. Get to work on something else so you won’t concentrate too much on this project, making it the center of your attention again.

As a general rule, every book I write gets a few months between stages, a break I really need from each project. I can't imagine going through all the steps in finishing a book back-to-back. I get so sick of a story when one stage carries into the next without pause that I can no longer see whether anything I'm doing is improving or ruining it. When one stage of a work-in-progress is complete, I'm eager to get away from it. Many times I leave a stage certain the whole thing is fit only for burning in the nearest fireplace, but, when I come back to it months later, I discover that all my previous hard work was well worth the effort.

Stage 5: Writing the first draft

Once you take the project out to begin writing the true first draft of the story, you’ll notice that you have everything you need to begin. The outline you created for yourself should contain everything your book will, only on a much smaller scale, and will include a scene-by-scene breakdown of the entire story, hopefully rich with dimensions and CPR development.

If your outline was solid when you finished it, that should translate into a book that needs only minor revision and editing to add a few more crucial layers once you write the draft. This isn’t to say that the book won't come to life, growing and fleshing out more deeply and vividly as you write the first draft. It does or should immeasurably. So there goes the argument that writing an outline will kill your enthusiasm for the book. If anything, it becomes even more exciting because you're taking the framework and foundation you set down in an outline and made it powerful, multidimensional, and cohesive with prose. I want to challenge those who say an outline kills your enthusiasm for writing the book to try this method anyway--a couple of times, if you’re willing. You really do have to experience this to understand it, but, when I write a book based on a “first draft” outline, magic happens because I watch the outline-skeleton taking on flesh and blood and becoming a walking, talking, breathing story right before my very eyes. If anything, it’s more exciting this way--and a whole lot easier. Life and soul are infused into the story and I'm free to explore possibilities that I may have only just touched on in the outline. It’s organic.

One thing I want to note is that at no time during my first draft do I ever, ever, ever go backward and start revising. Writing and revising are two very different processes and a simple need for revising can so easily become an outright overhaul. Not only does this stop your progress in its tracks, but you may not be doing your story a favor by trying to be in two separate mind-sets at the same time. But more about revising later.

Stage 6: Setting aside

Stephen King calls this “recuperation time”, and it really is that, considering the blood, sweat, and tears you’ve expended thus far (half done in the writing in stages process!). When you take the manuscript down again to begin revisions, followed by editing and polishing, “you’ll find reading your book over after a…layoff to be a strange, often exhilarating experience. It’s yours, you’ll recognize it as yours…and yet it will also be like reading the work of someone else. …This is the way it should be, the reason you waited.” See Stage 4 for more details about setting a project aside.

Stage 7: Revising

Ray Bradbury described this stage as the time, after letting the story cool off, of "reliving" rather than "rewriting". Revision is, ideally, the process of reworking material in an effort to make what’s already there better and stronger. If an author jumps directly into writing a story without brainstorming, researching, outlining, setting aside before and after the first draft, this revision will be a mere second layer of the story and, inevitably, the author has left himself with the torturous work of untangling, organizing, reshaping, revising, and searching for three-dimensionality in three hundred or more disjointed pages. Many an author who employs this method of working may need to do multiple drafts or revisions to develop an editor-quality manuscript that is consistent, well layered, and mostly coherent. Whether or not it’s three-dimensional and the CPR elements are properly developed is up for debate.

In a midway version of best- and worst-case scenarios, revision may mean making significant changes to a draft, such as adding or deleting plot threads, completely rewriting certain sections, or fleshing out characters and relationships to make them three-dimensional. In a milder form (usually after the author starts with a solid outline he used to write the first draft), revision could translate into tweaking the three-dimensionality of characters, plots, and relationships to reinforce them, maybe incorporating last-minute research.

As I said previously, writing and revision are two completely separate processes that require different mind-sets, and therefore shouldn’t be done at the same time. While writing a book, a simple need to polish words, sentences, or paragraphs can become a complete rewrite. This isn’t a productive way to work when you’re attempting to finish the first draft of the book.

An unfortunate side effect of revising, editing, and polishing while you’re still writing (and, yes, so many writers attempt to do all four of these at the same time instead of separately, in their own distinct stages) is that you don’t get the necessary distance from the project in order to be able to revise effectively. You need to enter the revision phase with fresh, objective eyes once the first draft of the book is finished. In some ways, you need to view that first draft as if it's not your own work so you can perform the hard work that may be necessary. Only then can you see the story without rose-colored glasses, as it really is.

Let’s first talk about the difference between the revision process and the editing and polishing process, because these, too, are separate jobs that can--but ideally shouldn’t--take place at the same time. On the road to writing a book, you want to minimize major changes like rewriting an entire story thread; adding, deleting, or revising multiple chapters; and infusing three-dimensionality of characters, plots, and relationships. These kinds of major fixes will cost you a lot of time and effort (hence the need for an outline first). If you've utilized your outlined scenes while writing the first draft to make sure your story is progressing, the chance of detecting problems early will allow you to take corrective action in a way that isn't overwhelming. This prevents major revisions at the end of a project, when you’ve already committed hundreds of pages to a solid structure.

That said, yes, during this time you’ll be working on fixing more serious problems, but you probably will be doing some editing and polishing during this stage as well. You’re there; it wouldn’t make sense not to clean up some minor issue that isn't quite right, yet clearly needs a little elbow grease. However, what you’re really looking for during the revision is fixing anything in your story that doesn’t work or make sense. When you revise, you evaluate (and fix) any of the following: 

·         Three-dimensionality of characters, settings, plots, and relationships

·         Structure

·         Character, plot, and setting credibility, and the cohesion of these elements

·         Scene worthiness

·         Pacing

·         Effectiveness of hints, tension and suspense, and resolutions

·         Transitions

·         Emotion

·         Hooks and cliff-hangers

·         Character voice

·         Consistency

·         Adequacy of research

·         Properly unfurled, developed, and concluded story threads

·         Deepening of character enhancements/contrasts and their relevant symbols

Revision is a necessary, natural part of writing. Every first draft needs it. Revision will help you smooth out any rough edges in your first draft. Information dumps or illogical leaps (or critique partners that point out such things) will alert you to the sections that need to be reworked. You could put the information overload elsewhere in the book, break it up and scatter it throughout several scenes, or cut, condense, and polish it so it flows better and makes more sense. As for illogical leaps, you can fill in, tweak, or modify throughout a story to shore up weak areas and provide the justification for a specific element. You’ll also add layers as you do this, building on the three-dimensional qualities of your CPR elements.

I strongly believe that once an author begins this stage revision should be done as quickly as possible, with as little interruption from the material as possible. This won’t compromise the quality of your revision, I promise--just the opposite, in fact. Ideally, if you can set aside a block of time of about a week to work exclusively on revision, you’ll find that your story will be more consistent, and you’ll remember details much better. In my case, during revision days, I may be woken from sound sleep because a glaring error in some portion of the book will emerge from my subconscious. The whole book is quite literally laid out in my mind, ready to be accessed at a moment’s notice during this short revision period. If revision on a project is broken up by a period of weeks or months, especially if you’re working on other projects during this time, the book may suffer from consistency issues and possibly even structural and cohesion problems. If you can set aside a crucial, uninterrupted block of time (preferably one week) to focus on revision, your story will benefit from it immeasurably.

The revision stage is almost always the point where I can see the finish line--essentially when I'm ready to let it go. I think that's an important part of the writing in stages process. Unless and until you feel you're ready to let the book go because it's as flawless as you can make it, don't let it go. You'll probably feel the same way as I do at the revision step if you follow the writing-in-stages method in the order I've laid out. Getting to the letting-go point might be much harder if you're not using this process.

In the next part, we'll talk about stages 8-11.

Karen S. Wiesner is the author of CPR for Dead or Lifeless Fiction {A Writer's Guide to Deep and Multifaceted Development and Progression of Characters, Plot, and Relationships}

Volume 6 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection 

Happy writing!

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

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