Old World Solutions

04Jun10

I’ve gone into a bunker while I work on rewrites to Small Fish. It’s a vexing process that poses a complicated problem, the solution to which ended up being simpler than I’d imagined.

A novel can be seen, metaphorically, as a complex quilt. Hundreds of squares of fabric, each with their own unique pattern, sewn together in a particular order. Even the thread colors between squares will change, according to the colors in the squares. If you looked at the finished product and decided that this particular square down here belongs up there, why, you’d have a problem. Especially if the square you’re replacing didn’t go well in the hole created by the one you’re moving. There is a domino effect that touches, potentially, every square in the quilt.

In the original manuscript of Small Fish, Paul’s indictment doesn’t occur until page 262. Sage Agent and others suggest that he needs to get into trouble sooner. Ratchet things up sooner. I agree entirely. So now square #262 is square #67. And everything in between has to change – some drastically.

How to create order out of this chaos? Novel writing software? A spreadsheet? I looked at a dozen technology-based tools.

I settled on a package of 200 index cards, $2.37 at Walgreen. I went through the manuscript, made an index card for each event, noting the page number. Then I made index cards for the new events or changes to events that would result from the reordering of the story arc. And reshuffled the deck.

Now all I have to do is sew this blasted thing back together.

(Oh, and I am giddy about how it’s going to come out.)

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6 Responses to “Old World Solutions”

  1. Peter,

    This is a great analogy for the editing process. Like you said, you can’t simply find and replace. One tiny change impacts the entire design.

    Like you, I need to see the changes laid out before me. Using index cards is definitely the cheapest way to do this. They’re also highly flexible. Cut a scene? Remove from pile. Need a new one? Insert here.

    best luck on your rewrites~ cat

  2. Very timely, Pete, as the reason I’m reading your blog right now is to avoid dealing with the structure of the third section of my novel. I have all the piece, and there’s a story within a story going on, but it’s been really tough to make it flow. I had printed it out separating scene by scene, but I’m probably at index card stage myself. Thanks for the reminder and good luck! Jude

  3. In a novel I’ve got marinating, I moved an event from the middle to the opening scene. It required a ton of rewriting – obviously. It made the story stronger, but I needed some distance from it because I know it needs more work and I think I’d memorized every word. Good luck with your revisions!

  4. 4 Phillipa

    Interesting. Even minor changes at the beginning snowball inconsistencies throughout the mss. Never tried the card system, although it could save me a lot of time. I tend to read and re read and re read.

  5. 5 Sian

    Just let me know. Page no., duration, focus.

  6. Thanks for this honest and encouraging post. I love your metaphor. I also use the index card approach and prefer it because its visual/kinesthetic. I wrote about something similar on my blog after going to a wonderful course called Solving your plotting problems. Cheers.


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