An Intro to The Art of Revision: Part 2

So, a couple of weeks ago, I posted “An Intro to The Art of Revision,” and promised more to come. Here’s the more to come 😉 (which will, in time, be followed by yet another “more to come,” I’m sure)

Again, I start with a disclaimer about how revision (and writing, in general) is different for everyone, yadda yadda yadda, and how you should totally ignore me if the following doesn’t appeal to you.

Last time, I focused on how you should see your first draft as malleable, and how you’re using it to figure out What Is My Story About (and What Is My Story NOT About). Here’s a little more explanation on that.

At the heart of every story, there is Want and there is Conflict. Your characters are driven to action because they want something. The rest of the story exists because there’s conflict that prevents your characters from just getting what they want. This Want and Conflict (which can then split into many Wants and Conflicts) can differ wildly in complexity and subtly from story to story.

You can think about it this way (and I’m generalizing/stereotyping here): a summer blockbuster action movie is gonna have a pretty simple main Want and Conflict—Villain wants to destroy the world (mwauhaha!); Hero wants to save it. An “art-house” indie film might have something less outwardly dramatic: young woman wants to get into college and escape her little town; her emotionally needy mother wants her to stay.

But either way, there’s always a main Want and Conflict. Many times, there are sub-Wants and Conflicts as well (Hero in action movie also wants to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend, who doesn’t understand why he’s always off saving the world and not watching police procedurals with her; she threatens to break up with him if he keeps skipping date night). But the main thing in your revision is to make sure that your main character(s)’s major Want and Conflict are established as early as possible, and as clearly as possible. Without this, readers find it much harder to care. After all, this juxtaposition of “want” and “conflict” is your book’s plot.

This is what people are talking about when they say beginner writers often start a book “too early” in the story. If your story is about a boy whose sister gets kidnapped and he has to go after her, it’s an issue if the girl doesn’t actually get kidnapped until chapter 10. You might protest that the first 10 chapters are necessary to explain why the girl would get kidnapped, and to develop the characters, and the setting, and so on. Yes, those things are important, but not as important as kick-starting your plot.

I’ll wrap up here for today. Go check your WIPs! Are you setting up “Want” and “Conflict” as early as possible?

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