Learning how to rewrite: leave it alone!

I’ve recently been rereading some of my old stories, some of which are over two years old. Back then I rarely edited. The thing that strikes me the most is how often I forgot to ‘place the reader firmly on the ground.’

  • I’ll have one character facing a wall at one side of a room and then on the other side of the room will be the character he’s supposed to be addressing.
  • I’ll mention things that the reader will have absolutely no way of knowing. Usually because I had the knowledge written in some outline document and just assumed it was in the story.
  • I’ll jump between points of view without a care in the world.
  • I’ll use fragments for actions between dialogue when it isn’t clear who’s speaking. Or worse when someone is speaking who I’ve not even introduced yet!

These are just some of the mistakes I made.

Planting the reader firmly on the ground is a hard skill to master. Part of me thinks it’s the hardest part about writing fiction. You have to remember that the reader knows absolutly nothing about your world. That all those little bits of exposition you removed from the story are actually removed from the story. You need to wipe any memory of having written the story in the first place.

The solution? Leave the story alone. For as long as you can just let it sit unread. Start something else, read a lot of something else. Then go back, your mind sufficiently wiped. As you read mark up as much as you can: WTF? Confused here. But he just said he didn’t know where x was.

This is advice I’ve heard numerous times. But you’ve really got to feel it to understand it. Those old stories aren’t worthless, they’re treasure troves on how not to write!

Written on September 10, 2017