10 Ways to Start the Process of Re-Envisioning

How do you start revisions? You’ve got a great draft, and it’s pretty settled in your mind that this is how the story happens. BUT, readers aren’t thrilled with it. Editors and agents pass it by with a nice personal letter. Great, you think. There’s something here, but it’s not quite right. How do you start the process of re-envisioning such a story?

Some suggestions:

  1. Add, subtract or combine characters. Add a new best friend, or a new villain. Take out a character who has supported the antagonist, leaving the antagonist to his/her own devices. Combine two friends into one, especially when it will combine contrasting characteristics in a quirky way.
  2. Give a character a definite attitude. Find a certain scene that troubles you and do this: give one of the characters a definite attitude about what is happening. The character loves the current event, despises it, wishes his sister were here to deal with it, – anything. Give the second character a competing, but not opposite point of view: this character also knows the sister would do a better job of things, but is determined to do it herself, without sister’s help. Now, re-write, focusing especially on the dialogue.
  3. Switch POV. Write a scene from a different point of view and see where it takes you.
  4. Change setting. Put the scene in a different setting, a different time of day or season. What changes? What is possible in the desert is not possible on the beach! What difference does this setting make to the story?
  5. Cut the first three chapters. Begin the story at chapter four and make it work; don’t allow any back story to come into the story until page 100.
  6. Question assumptions about characters. Yes, Snively Whiplash is still the villain, but maybe he sings rock music and you never even knew it. And he’s striking back right now against your character because at a Karaoke, the antagonist didn’t recognize Whiplash in his disguise and actually laughed at his singing. OK. A bit melodramatic (Snively does that to a story!), but you get the idea. Have you assumed a character is all good or all bad? Find the opposite quality in him or her. Question something basic about one or more characters and carry it to the logical extreme.
  7. Raise the Stakes. How can you make the outcome of a scene matter more to the antagonist or protagonist? The lost necklace belonged to Melanie’s grandmother, who brought it from Poland when she fled the Nazi regime. It had been given to her by her fiance before he went off to war and was never seen again. THAT is the missing necklace and it matters deeply to Melanie, who loved that grandmother. Or, make the stakes broader, with wider effects: the fire set by Jimmy and Prissy in the woods has spread and now threatens the whole community.
  8. Rethink the Plot Complications. What obstacles does the main character confront? Can you add one more, in the form of a subplot? Try to change the obstacles in intensity, scale, or sheer amount of aggravation. Instead of one puny kid objecting to the character’s call as a soccer referee, let the biggest kid argue the call; or let the whole team gather round our poor character and let him talk his way out of that one! Or, instead, the whole team heckles him throughout the rest of the game, nothing enough to get them thrown out, but enough to aggravate.
  9. Drastic Rewrite #1: Retype the whole manuscript, with the idea that you must change something on every page as you rewrite. But when a revision takes off, follow it and give it free rein.
  10. Drastic Rewrite #2: Put the manuscript in a drawer and open a new computer file or take out new notebook paper. Tell the story again, without looking at the first telling. Do this chapter by chapter if you have to until some new idea takes hold, and then go with it.

Caution: NEVER delete an old manuscript or type over it. always keep a copy, in case you need to go back to it. Often changes go too far and you need to back track some. The previous drafts are helpful to remind you of the options you have already explored and which worked and which didn’t.