Monday, August 21, 2017

Jigsaw Puzzle

Generally I am a sporadic writer and a constant pessimist regarding the progression of a story's development.  I tend to compose a story sequentially, the writer's hand gliding forward through the story's events until a beginning, middle, and end are written.  My first draft is always a mess whose scenes jump about  without unity, whose characters are unfocused in motivations and goals, and whatever concept drives the "plot" will be observable only to the most discerning of readers.  Research (aka watching cat videos) is a time consuming part of this development.

My second draft is slightly better, and usually longer as I spackle words over the obvious cracks in a ham-handed attempt to achieve clarity. Characters become somewhat more defined, and elements of plot begin to emerge as I begin to understand what I've created.  This draft is still a mess, but one with acceptable spelling and punctuation. Research is more focused and only infrequently falls into the Internet's cat holes.

My third draft is where murder  most foul occurs.  Thanks to my readers' group, who mercilessly butcher my offering, I realize which scenes are unnecessary and which are mere filler to achieve word count targets and put them aside. I am sometimes advised to combine characters' quirks to reduce reader confusion and thereby reduce the story's body count.  Much bloody ink is spilled in this process diluted by gallons of cold coffee and assorted curses.

In the darkness of my writer's hovel I continue to refine a fourth, and, hopefully final  draft. The plot becomes more evident as I focus on its impact on each character and, oh yes, throw a few more parts of the story off the sled as the wolves of self-imposed deadlines approach.  The draft is still a mess - accurate in its progression but boring as hell. Sadly, I commit myself to another round of edits and rewrites for what I promise will be my final draft. I've used the bathroom considerably more on this version.

My fifth draft is where I assemble the pieces of my jigsaw puzzle. My first task is to focus each scene into as near perfect form as possible, even if it means rewriting or cutting and pasting portions between scenes.  Each scene needs to be refined into more explicit emotional, explicative, confusing, and humorous, forms.  I constantly fight the tendency to add the dreaded expositional narrative that is ever the bane of SF writers.  In the end, my draft exists as a virtual deck of scene cards that I can move about.  It is still dull as hell but finally almost a story.

Editing the sixth and (hopefully) penultimate draft is when I begin to doubt my ability to write. I start to doubt that this piece will ever see publication. I pick it up, read it, and disgusted, stick it out of sight, out of mind.   Nevertheless, it festers in my subconscious. Guilt finally forces me to confront it with fresh eyes and look at the story as if it were a piece of music - John  Cage for sure, but music nevertheless.  I deal out my scene cards and compose the final-final draft by arranging scenes into a more dramatic presentation.   I place serious scenes beside others containing a riff of humor, offsetting that humor with pathos, or forcing the unfortunately necessary exposition bits into places where they won't harm the flow.

The rhythm of the piece begins to take shape through the magic of foreshadow and back story until it crescendoes into a blazing finale that I usually slap together to replace the one that looked so perfectly right before the rearrangement.  Unlike my original version, I write this finale with a complete understanding of the stories' content.

Editing the final, final, God-damn it FINAL draft consists of housekeeping - title, by line, formatting, page numbering, and whatever font selection might please the editor.  Those done the ms flies through the magic of electrons to whatever editorial catch basin I select.

Leaving only the agonizing wait for a reply.

* I know I've subtly hinted at this before in earlier posts.


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