For Thursday, February 4, 2016:
“Don’t write so that you can be understood, write so that you can’t be misunderstood.”
William Howard Taft
Thank goodness for second drafts.
Yesterday, while working on the revisions of my novel, I came across a series of paragraphs that made perfect sense when I first wrote them. Reading them through the lenses of the finished first draft, however, and then the changes, additions, reordering, and pieces that had to be omitted in this second draft, I realized those particular older parts didn’t make sense at all, even at the time.
I expect we’ve all been there: we have an idea – however clear or vague – of where the story is going and how, so we write and write and write to get there. We see the action and the scenes, we hear the dialogue, and we think we’ve covered all the bases. We’re all excited. Our clear-as-mud idea is coming to fruition.
Come to find out, though, we’ve skipped over vital information, we’ve gone one way when we should’ve gone another. We’re good writers – why didn’t we see that the first time?
Because we have so much swirling around in our heads. Because we see the whole picture, the storyline encapsulated and complete. Because there’s so much going on the first time around, we have to get past and through the sometimes-extraneous ‘stuff’ in order to see the small(er) parts and components that will, eventually, make up the finished whole.
In other words, we have to go from the long-range, wide angle lens of our vision to the macro lens that the reader needs, one of more precise attention to detail.
Sometimes we’re tempted – at least I am – to skip over those minute pieces, to expect the reader to understand the metaphor (just as I expect most people will know, for instance, that the previous sentence is a metaphor gleaned from photography), but that’s not always the case. Yes, we love our metaphors, but to be fair to our readers, we have to explain things.
Here comes the hardest part: we still have to ‘show, not tell.’ We might have to take the reader on the journey – or at least part of it – that a character has taken to get to a particular point, but we can’t just tell the reader about it. Another character might need to provide answers to questions no one else has asked, or question someone’s answer, in such a way that shows thought and movement (forward or backward, depending on the characters).
Each draft has to focus more and more closely, more and more precisely. We can’t let the reader struggle, s/he shouldn’t be left to say ‘that doesn’t make sense’ or ‘where did that come from?’ Can the macro lens be turned, by the end of the book, to focus on the whole and leave the reader with a feeling of satisfaction and ‘rightness’?
The farther into this post I write, the more I’ve become aware that I’m talking to myself – I’m showing myself how to get through the rest of the second draft, maybe even re-start some of it. Looks like it’s time to get that metaphorical camera out and adjust the lenses a bit …