Writing is Rewriting

I went back over my favorite scene this morning. The one where they’re running around with torches in the dark grounds of the rehab.

Not that it’s a good idea to have favorite scenes. The other scenes get jealous. But this one just was.

The rehab started out as this vague old mansion house, but then with subsequent rewrites began to take on a character of its own. Taller stone walls. Razor wire on top. Security guards. A huge wrought iron gate. Much, much harder for the villains to get in and the goodies to get out.

Great stuff. Strengthen the conflict.

And then last night, lying in bed thinking about it, worrying at a few minor details (I wasn’t quite sure, for example, why our heroine was wandering out into the grounds at night in the first place: the line “lovely moon” was sitting there as a place holder. Not, as it might seem, a major plot hole, but certainly a loose connection.) suddenly I realised the scene was now all screwed up. Just made no sense at all.

Because at the first suggestion of an intruder in the grounds of an outfit this security conscious a relay would snap on and the whole damn place would be FLOODLIT!

There was no getting away from it. The running around with torches I’d become so fond of, the shadowy tingles I’d spent so much rewrite time shaping, tightening and sharpening – gone.

So waddya do?

This morning I turned on the floods. And of course the whole painstakingly constructed scene just dissolved to white. But then something truly strange happened.

Everything snapped into focus. All I had to do was write it down. That rush of megawatts, suddenly lighting up the French windows like day, turned out to be exactly the trigger to make our heroine get up from the dinner table and venture out onto the balcony.

And down onto the terrace, territory we knew quite well from earlier sunlit scenes, moderately more interesting in my first draft moonlight, but now weird and stark under the electric glare.

A villain out there in the dark – yes, ok. But a villain somewhere among the few shadows of that over-exposed landscape… I was shivering at the thought.

The guards don’t find him, of course. They decide it’s a false alarm. The lights go out one by one. Out there in the dark we relax, and…

Somewhere among the shrubs a twig snaps…

The scenes we write are putty in our hands. That’s great for a first draft. But they need to come out hard and sharp. You can often do that, I find, with an import from the real world, even if — especially if – it’s something that wrecks your careful construction and makes you rebuild it brick by brick afresh.

ChB  10-22-2012, 06:36 pm



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