The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Ninth Commandment of Writing

Thou shalt rewrite.

In fact, it is often said that books and screenplays are not written—they are re-written.  Finished products often look little like that first draft.  Those first drafts are re-written after editors and friends add input, or even after fans and audiences have a look at the initial product.  Is this corrupt?  I think not.  Stage plays have been re-written for centuries after initial testing.  In all probability, Shakespeare did it, and if it was good enough for the Bard, what’s your excuse?

Most specifically, the process can look like this:
1) Plan  and research your story. 
2) Write the first draft in a white-heat, not even stopping for spellchecking (of course, the longer the project, the less practical this may be.)
3) Put the draft aside for at least a week, to diminish ego-involvement and increase dispassionate perspective.
4) Re-read, making corrections.  As you read, seek to discover the theme.  In other words, you don’t write the first draft with the theme in mind, you let your subconscious weave this material together.
5) As you re-write, examine every scene to insure that each action, every line of dialogue furthers your theme, or specifically counters it.  This converts the subtext of your work into a conversation, an argument concerning the meaning of life, or human interaction.
6) Examine every character.  Now that you know how the story ends, you should have a much better idea of the nature and personalities of your characters.  You can and must strengthen every line of dialogue, every action, every emotion—all in the service of strengthening the end of the story.

Remember: the meaning of your story is to be found in the last scene or scenes.  Everything that we do must be in the service of our process, and our intent. 

Stories are not written.  They are re-written.  Never forget it.

1 comment:

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