Thursday, October 20, 2011

Writing, Revising, and (Not) Making Decisions

Writing is all about decision-making, whether you are deciding what word to use or what a character is like or what happens next in the story. Sometimes you worry that you're making the wrong decisions. Sometimes you are, and eventually you will have to double back and change your choice-- and everything else that comes after it.

But I don't think most of the problems with stories come from making the wrong decision-- they come from not really making a decision at all.

Now, you would think that if you don't choose one thing or another, you can't move the story forward, right? Not so much. You might be surprised what you can do with a plot while vacillating. I know. I'm a Vacillation Expert.

You can definitely move the story forward without making decisions. But the story becomes muddled and confusing. For example: in the final draft of Divergent, one of Tris's friends develops a crush on her. In the rough draft, he sort of did and didn't. There would be scenes in which he behaved as if he liked her, and scenes in which he seemed like just a friend, because I just couldn't decide if I wanted that or not. When I revised, I had to make a decision. And then I had to change every single scene that he was in. Which was, you know, not all that fun, but necessary.

And in Insurgent, I had to make a decision regarding a character's motivations. As I neared the end of the draft, I figured out what that character's motivation was, but I found that she had acted contrary to that motivation in the beginning, just to serve the plot. That's one way to instantly flatten a minor character, because they no longer seem like actual people, they're just there to advance the story. So, because I am not a fan of Instant Flattening, I had to go back and change it, but that affected several scenes later in the story, so I had to fix those, too.

The point is: if, as you are revising, you think that something is confusing or muddled or unclear, or your critique partners think so, have a look at the decisions you made. Figure out if you were too busy vacillating between two options to choose a clear path, and that's why a part of your draft is messy. And then go back and pick something.

And then maybe get some candy, because every scene that comes after your non-decision will probably have to change. 

I myself prefer Fun Dip.

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