Lessons already Learnt

So today was the day I really started to revise my first draft. Armed with the instructions from ‘Rock Your Revisions’ and having already done my read through, it was time to start breaking down my novel into scenes in order to determine which ones are plot and which are just folly.

As I’m not quite finished with one section of the book – Cecelia’s Story – I’ve decided to start there. For those not familiar with my surprise when I did my read through of NaNo #1 to discover that I’d skipped a huge element of one part of the story: imagine waking up one day to find that your left leg is gone. You were damn sure it was there when you went to sleep, but sometime in the night it just ceased to exist. That’s how I felt when I realised that the scenes in my head, the ones I had assumed I had written, were, in fact, all still just in my head.

My first really big mistake as a writer. Lesson learnt: don’t forget to write things down.

Index Card system - starting afresh for NaNo #1, along with the ones I did for NaNo #2!

Index Card System – starting afresh for NaNo #1, along with the ones I did for NaNo #2!

So anyway, this morning I sat down with a plan. I would index card up all my scenes from Cecelia’s Story and identify the main purpose and outcome of each. Any scenes without a reason – out they would come. I was pleased to discover that I could justify the majority of the scenes I had already written for Cecelia: they made sense, they demonstrated either her character or the character of others and they were building up to the final part whilst also providing the reader with enough clues to be prepared for what came later.

Those scenes I did identify as weak would be scrapped. There were three that were almost identical – with the exact same purpose: to highlight that Madeline’s habit of collecting lost objects came from her childhood. But, Cecelia and Madeline didn’t need to do it three times over. Once would be enough, especially as I evidenced this point further by having Madeline show Cecelia all her treasures in another scene: it would be apparent from this that Madeline had been collecting for some time already.

I did end up merging two of those lost object scenes though. In one Cecelia wonders about oddity of Madeline’s hobby and in another Cecelia finds a ring that Madeline appropriates as her own treasure, causing tension between the two young girls. By combining them I realise I am strengthening the overall scene and providing it with a clear purpose that demonstrates the character of both Cecelia and Madeline. Cecelia, despite finding the ring, gives it up to Madeline, who wants the ring – Cecelia also wants it, but is willing to sacrifice for her friend whereas Madeline, who wanted to share in her hobby, selfishly refuses to share the bounty. Such character traits are explored further in the novel.

Whilst I was writing up these index cards from my handwritten section (Another Lesson Learnt: Have your manuscript all typed up before trying to edit) I realised that it felt very familiar. I had used index cards before, for the planning stages of my NaNo #2. When I finally retrieved these cards I was gob-smacked.  On each card was a two sentence summary of each short chapter (or scene) along with ‘WHY’ that scene was important and the ‘RESULT’ it left my characters with.

In other words, I had recorded the purpose and outcome of each scene.

Apparently I had the foresight to provide these handy little scene cards to justify and analyse my plot the second time I attempted to write one. Now won’t that make revising NaNo #2 a lot easier?!

Lesson Learnt: Sometimes you make progress without ever really noticing or acknowledging it.

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2 responses to “Lessons already Learnt

  1. Sounds very methodical. I think that’s what I struggle with in terms of these types of books (although I did buy it to give it a shot). They seem too analytical, and my creative mind wants to be free as a bird, not caged by index cards! 🙂

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