Salvaging Old Scenes for New Drafts

It’s officially April as I’m writing this, which means Camp Nanowrimo is here! I’m doing a big revision/rewrite this month of my WIP, and I’ve spent the last few weeks making a game plan and evaluating the old drafts and what needs to change or be added from scratch.

A lot of the background for one of my POV characters has changed, which leads to about half of her chapters in ACT 1 now being written new. Not all though, and most of the other POV character’s scenes are still mostly the same.

This brings me to today’s topic, which is salvaging old scenes for new drafts. It’s a fine line, knowing when to write a brand new scene and when something is capable of being revised rather than fully rewritten. In previous drafts I made the mistake of taking the “lazy” way out by salvaging as much of old scenes as I could. That’s fine and dandy if those scenes are actually staying mostly the same, but when I’m allowing the revisions to be half-assed in favor of taking the shortcut, it’s a problem.

So I’ve tried to be much harder on myself this go round. For a lot of scenes I asked myself if the basic premise of the scene was changing, and if it was then it had to be rewritten. If the setting is completely changing and that affects a lot of the scene, then it needs to be rewritten. In some cases it could be as simple as the plot, goal and setting are all still the same but the character’s underlying motivation is different or the emotional and physical dominos that led them to that scene are different and therefore the tone of the scene is different.

That’s what it really boils down to, I think, and what you should be looking at when trying to decide whether to salvage or scrap a scene. It’s also a factor I’ve ignored up till now, and have taken a lot of extra time to admit is an issue, and a lot of drafts I could’ve avoided. Tone, the motivation and just general meaning behind a scene is enough to necessitate a rewrite. It seems like such a small thing, but, in my opinion, it’s one of the few things that can’t just be revised. It’s an entire mindset for the scene, it’s in every word choice and tick your characters have.

And it’s so tempting to just have the old scene in front of me and rewrite that way, or go through and edit it to fit the new circumstances, but that isn’t always possible. Because even those who consider ourselves ruthless revisers and editors will still favor the words that are already on the page over the ones that have yet to be written.

It’s been a common theme in my revisions and posts lately, this idea of forcing myself not to take the lazy way out. I’m still working on that mindset, on being willing to put in every bit of leg work a project requires in order to ultimately produce the best story possible, to tell it the way it’s meant to be told no matter how much blood, sweat and tears it took to get there.

So remember, there’s plenty of reasons to chose revising over rewriting or vice versa, but it ultimately matters most what the scene needs, what the issues are and how they can best be approached so that you aren’t cheating yourself or your story.

 

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