The Under Ground Writing Project

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Going the Distance

Posted by Ali on August 8, 2012 at 7:45 AM

About a month ago, I did a very sillly thing. I signed up to submit a full novel draft to the the writing group. Luckily, I had a rough draft. Unluckily, I had not yet started revising it. So, off to the races I went.


Jenny's post on Monday had me thinking about what I think are important writing rules. I came up with some clever ideas. I started drafting a clever post. Then, in the midst of working on the novel revision, I realized there's just one that seems to be the biggest. It's like Newton's Law. It's physics. Undeniable and constant:


It's always easier to spot the problems and figure out solutions for someone else's work.

Bam. Epiphany. Wait, you're thinking that's obvious, aren't you? Let me flesh it out a bit. Last week, I went to see the Total Recall remake. Spoiler alert: it's pretty terrible. The best part, by far, is the scene where Kate Beckinsale is doing her very best to murder Colin Farrell. Awesome. The worst part, by far, is, well a lot of parts of the movie where it felt like the writers had gotten too attached to a plot device/image/silly idea that made no sense. They got so sucked in to a little piece of the story that the story as a whole suffered. Classic forest vs. trees situation.


For my novel revision, one of the first things on my list was going through the chapters as they were and plotting the chapters as they should be. It was a quick outline sketch, but a couple of things became obvious to me along the lines of "What was I thinking?"


In my rough draft, there is a part toward the end where one of the characters gets kidnapped. I wrote a whole scene where the heroes jump to a conclusion about who the kidnapper is and have a confrontation with the wrong person. When I wrote it, I thought the misdirection was cool and would build suspense by keeping the reader guessing.


Now, I can see that the whole "mystery" aspect was a tangent that didn't really serve the story as a whole. Snip, snip, that part's gone. Now the plot's going to be tighter. I couldn't see it when I was drafting, because I was too caught up in creating something from scratch. Now that I have the raw material on the page, it's easier to see what should go where.


Getting distance makes it easier to kill your babies. Baby killing, in the writing sense, is key. So, do whatever works for you to get distance. Listen to feedback from others, give a piece time to sit, write something else at the same time, write your manuscript and sign it with someone else's name... Whatever works for you, do it. When you get to the point that you can hear a critique without arguing back, you're in a good place. If you're not there yet, then you're not ready to revise.

Categories: Advice, Writing Groups, Rules

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1 Comment

Reply Jenny Maloney
10:00 AM on August 8, 2012 
I've never heard the "put someone else's name" on a piece to get some distance.

Other tidbits I've heard to gain some distance:

1. If you've been working on a computer - change the look of the screen somehow. Fonts, colors, view, etc. And, of course, print it out if you've only been looking at a screen.

2. Print out a handful of pages and pin them to your wall so you can see physical pages from a literal distance - apparently it helps you see how the story looks on the page. And you can see where you're doing a bunch of dialogue vs a bunch of narrative.

3. Work scenes in a random order. (This doesn't help you with the whole, necessarily, but it can get your scenes sharper.)

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