Once More, With Motivation!

A lot can be said of rewriting. By definition, it’s much more like actual writing than editing is, but it still follows the guideline of the original work to some degree. This is great, because it helps you decide which parts of the original work are worth using as guidelines. You can determine for each part of the work – each chapter, scene, conversation, or whatever – what exactly is accomplished, then decide whether that even needs to be accomplished and, if so, how best to make it happen.

In case it wasn’t abundantly obvious, I’m rewriting at the moment. It’s somewhat frustrating just because I’d been halfway through Rabbit and Cougar – and ready, in terms of line-editing, to use the first three chapters as my grad school writing sample – when I realized that oops, one of the two protagonists lacks real motivation. I’d been coming to this realization for some time, and when my friend (read: writer roommate Becky from college) read the first three chapters for me and pointed out the same problem. Not only does the lack of motivation leave poor Cougar a weaker character – less understandable and believable – but it means very low tension for the work overall. Cougar can’t be thwarted from his goal if he doesn’t have a goal. The large-scale aimlessness also doesn’t fit given that Cougar is usually a very practical character.

Rabbit and Cougar is a journey story, and Rabbit’s motivation for traveling was explained, but Cougar’s not so much. Given that Cougar starts the trip first and Rabbit joins him, it was pretty important that there be a reason to depart in the first place. I was musing aloud about possibilities when Becky half-jokingly said “He’s being chased.” We both laughed, but it gave me an idea. Over the next couple of days, I worked it into a coherent shape. Step One completed.

Step Two is the rewriting, which is more complicated than any I’ve done before, because I’m having to insert a whole new plotline. It is, I must say, great for tension. I’ve often heard it said that you should always be thinking about how to raise the odds against your protagonist(s), but that’s not the kind of thought I consciously have during first drafts. However, since this rewrite is basically the “Now With Tension!” edition, it’s a great time to think about that. Yesterday, I entirely rewrote a chapter in which astoundingly little happened before, but which now has its fair share of action and danger – probably more than any of the preceding chapters. This is what spurred the thoughts in the first paragraph of this entry: The original draft of this chapter had a lot of exposition. In my editing, I made a list of all the important things accomplished in each chapters. The new draft of the chapter accomplishes all but two of the things the old one did, and I should be able to accomplish those in the next two chapters. In fact, I expect them to come across better; both are facts that I originally established through dialogue, but will now have the opportunity to simply show.

The addition of a new plotline is not without difficulties. A few conflicts arise with the original plot, and I’ll have to address those. And then, of course, there will be Step Three: another line edit, for which I can hardly hope to have a fresh eye anytime soon. Somewhat frustrating, because I’d thought I was on my last edit now, but the work should be stronger for it.

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