My previous post introduced the paradox that imposing structure as I revise my novel gives me more creative freedom. This “structured freedom” allows characters and scenes to evolve with dissolving.
How the Draft Evolves by Changing Locations
Day 1: Draft the first new scene (from scene card 4.1) for Kat with Daniel in an alley
Day 2: Tweak first scene (4.1)
Day 3: Draft the second scene (from scene card 6.1) in a laundromat where Kat tells her father how she met Daniel.
Day 4: Add an argument I “heard” Kat and her father have while I was walking the dogs where Kat is offended that her father is having her tailed for her own protection. Revise Kat’s first scene (4.1) to show Kat knows someone is following her.
Later on Day 4: Realize that if Kat’s father is having her tailed, he wouldn’t need Kat’s explanation of how she met Daniel and other plot points would become pointless, so ditch that idea.
Day 5: Realize there is no extra significance in placing Kat and her father in a Laundromat. Revise second scene (6.1) to change the Laundromat stage business (folding clothes, shifting clothes from washers to dryers, etc.) to details that fit being in a park (walking barefoot, falling leaves, etc.). Draft new details that arise because being in the park allows us to see Kat’s father’s reverence for the natural world. See how the characters are more themselves in the park than in the Laundromat.
Day 6: Return to first scene (4.1) to delete the revisions made on Day 4.
Why I Draft Scenes in Order
I once thought that hopping from scene to scene to draft whatever I had the inclination and inspiration to write that day was creative freedom. But I wrote myself into all kinds of corners and unsolvable problems that way.
Now I draft the scenes in the order they’ll appear in the novel. Because I do that, what I draft today might affect scenes I’ve already written, but it won’t affect upcoming scenes. If I were to write Kat’s sixth scene before I drafted the second scene, the spontaneous changes I made on Day 4 would not only ripple back to alter the first scene, they also ripple forward to change Kat’s scenes three through six.
My willingness to explore my creative intuition and new options (like changing the location or changing what a character knows) would be inhibited by knowing how much I would have to change both backward and forward in the plotline. I would get overly rigid in how I perceive scenes when my vision should still be fluid.
Drafting the scenes in order and knowing that the only changes I’ll have to make are in previously written scenes keeps me willing to explore. Once again, structure gives me freedom.
Why I Let the Draft Wander
The “detour” I took on Day 4 was not wasted time. It deepened my understanding of my new POV character. If I hadn’t taken the detour, chances are I wouldn’t have pushed myself to move Kat and her father out of the Laundromat and into the park.
As I write each scene, I’ll know more about my characters and the story. Upcoming scenes will need to flex to accommodate my new knowledge and greater intuition. The alternative is to become a slave to the cards (the way writers can become slaves to an outline).
Fortunately, it’s easy to change a scene card. And I can easily change following scene cards that also need to change. Changing scene cards gives me freedom. Changing at the level of scene cards prevents the resistance I sometimes feel when I anticipate how difficult it will be to change already drafted scenes.
Working at the level of scene cards, I can be sure the changes fit and enhance the overall structure of the novel before I draft those possible scenes (and in drafting them, fall in love with them and be less willing to modify them). When I do draft a scene from the modified card, I have confidence that the modification will work with the rest of the novel.
I dreamstormed the cards to the best of my ability but with limited knowledge. I need the cards to guide the drafting, not dominate it.
It becomes increasingly clear with each day I revise that writing my first draft without the guidance of the cards was the real waste of time and creativity.
If you’re intrigued with the idea of structuring the first full draft of a novel or memoir at the scene level or have a first draft you want to revise by structuring the scenes and want to learn more about the exercises I’ve described, check out my new online Loft class Revisiting the Flow that starts October 27.