Second Draft

I read somewhere that most novels go through ten re-writes before being published.  When I read that statistic, I almost quit writing for a more lucrative field, like greeting people at Walmart.

Ten re-writes?  Really?  I still think that’s a bit extreme but that number worked its way around my psyche until I figured something out.  If a story might be re-written ten times, more or less, why not use that fact to my advantage?  So I tried something and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I write the story.  The story.  Not the characters, not the background.  Just the story.  Only when I’m done do I consider what kind of story I’m writing.  Romance?  Mystery?  Thriller?  Mainstream?  After remembering what kind of story I started out to write, I re-read the whole thing and insert what’s needed to make it become the kind of story it should be.

If it’s a romance, then every so often I’ll insert a sentence or two to add a bit of romantic interest.  Occasionally that sentence or two becomes a whole new scene.  Sometimes not.  Whatever the result, those re-written sentences add a subtle something that reminds the reader that this is not just a story, it’s a particular kind of story. This becomes especially true if what you are adding doesn’t contribute to the flow of the story.  Sex scenes.  Car chases. Descriptions without action. Soliloquies.  Background information.

I’ve since learned that many writers do this.  And here I thought I was unique!  I’m not, I’m just one of many writers who learned how to write by writing.

The only caveat to doing this is to not let it take over the book.  Remember that you’re fleshing out a situation, not stopping the action completely.  Usually a sentence or two will do the trick.  If you find you are writing an entire scene, then go back later and make sure you didn’t add too much.

And guess what?  Reading the story that third time to make sure your re-writes were appropriate becomes re-write number three.  And so on, until you stop because if you read it one more time you’ll puke.  And you realize that you’ve gone through the whole thing more times than you’d have thought possible when you put that first sentence on the page and ten re-writes begins to look almost normal.

THE ANVIL MOMENT

I love the anvil moment because it makes writing so much easier.  It takes care of all those inconvenient and messy problems that character arcs create.

What’s the anvil moment?  And what does it have to do with character arcs?  I’m glad you asked.  But first, do you know what a character arc is?  Just in case you don’t, I’ll explain, and it’s really quite simple.  And, at the same time, complicated.  Because the character arc is the change that takes place in your main character (and sometimes other characters) during the course of your story.  Without that change, few readers will think any story was worth reading.  But how do you show the change happening?

For some writers, it’s easy.  I’m not that kind of writer.  I hate character arcs.

I used to try to ease my characters towards what they would be at the end of the story. Problem was it didn’t work.  They got confused… and I got confused… until disaster befell us all and I threw the whole thing in the trash can and started over from the beginning because it was beyond hope.

Then I learned about the anvil moment.  The  moment when… like an anvil hitting someone over the head so hard that it couldn’t be ignored no matter how much that person wished to ignore it… the change happened and it  happened fast.  In one scene.  Usually in one moment in that scene.  Perhaps in just a few sentences, with no fuss and no mess but enough fanfare that even readers who weren’t paying attention got the message that the character had changed and would follow a different path from that moment forward.

You’ve seen movies and read books that have anvil moments.  In Shindler’s List, it’s when Shindler sees the body of the little girl in the red coat and, afterwards, makes it his mission to save as many Jews as possible. To make sure the audience couldn’t possibly miss the moment, everything in the movie was in black and white except the red coat.   It was a real anvil moment.   Or any romance in which the heroine doesn’t realize she’s in love with the hero until he heads out to save the day, or the country, or the world, or the universe, and she realizes she can’t stand the thought of his not returning.  It’s immediate, major, and changes the direction of the story.

One hint.  Choose your anvil moment well.  Make it when events have been building so the change makes sense and then fit it into the context of the scene.  Spend time on that scene because it’ll be pivotal.  Then relax and stop worrying about character arcs because you can do them with the best writers in the field if you make use of the anvil moment.