The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The writing "Machine" part 7: Re-write, reinforcing values and themes

Once you’ve finished your first draft, ask  “what is the meaning of my story” and re-write from the beginning to sharpen this.  There are two things to write about: what are human beings, and what is the world they see?   “Who am I” and “what is true?”  These ideas link together powerfully.  Everything you have a character say and do is your comment on what human beings are.   Every plot twist is a statement about the ethical structure of the universe: how the world responds to us, whether it is benign, indifferent, or malevolent.  

Here’s a note: classical science fiction tends to be much more “what is true” than “who am I?”     It deals more with the physical structure of the universe, what is true, how it fits together.   Most literary fiction deals more with the first question: “who am I” and the question of deep psychological and philosophical structure.   In reality, all fiction has examples that move between these, but another thing to remember is that they are inseparable, really.

Go deeply enough into either question, and you emerge at the other position.  So my suggestion is that you need to have a philosophy of humanity.  What are we?  Why are we?  What motivates us, what is love and what is fear?  

Go deep.   Ultimately, the question is connected to your sense of self.

And then…what is the world?   How do you understand the flow of history?  The actions of human beings?   Not “predict,” but in retrospect understand, and perhaps learn enough to make more positive choices in the future.

Meaning, values,  beliefs…all of these things affect our world view.  And working through it in your own life will teach you vast amounts about the world.

Then…develop a sense of the flow of history, human and cosmic.  How did we become what we are as a species?   It took me years of research to devise and refine the theories of social and human evolution in my novels LION’S BLOOD and GREAT SKY WOMAN.  The concepts about race, gender, consciousness and social structure are at the core drive the books and define the characters, their worlds, their choices, thoughts and more.  All in the service of an emotional charge.

So…what is your story about? Can you define it clearly?

And if you can, what is the opposite of that value?  That position?   Is there a character or situation that expresses that opposite?  Can you set the two values in story opposition to each other? Sharpen them?  Force them to clash?

Now, I DON’T suggest that you do this in your first draft.  In the first draft, just write and have fun. But during re-write, it is quite valuable to (as I believe Paddy Cheyefski said) extract the meaning from your piece, write it on a 3 X 5 card, and post that card above your computer. Then be certain that every scene in some way explores your theme or counter theme.  Do that, and you can create a core of power and emotion that will carry your readers along without them ever consciously realizing how and why they are responding so intensely.

It’s almost cheating. 

Write with passion!


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