Thursday, June 20, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Revision-Self Editing-Gestalt View
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 26, 2013
This sophisticated evaluation tool is appropriate for stories with complex plots. It helps the writer visualize the relationship between individual scenes and see the manuscript as a whole.
Gestalt. Noun. A configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that they cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.
A story with a complex plot is gestalt, for it contains many interwoven elements that combine to make a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
Structuring a novel in parts, chapters, scenes, and scene details, affords a writer the possibility to “walk” through the story to explore the interaction between its elements, its flow, and its pace. This is a unique method to determine during rewrite if the story works not only as a whole but also on the level of its constituent parts. By focusing on the details of a scene and tracking them back to their place within the story part, the writer can compare and assess their impact on the “whole.”
This technique is particularly useful for those writers who, knowing they have a good manuscript, have suffered substantial rejections. Not any type of rejection, though, but those mentioning that the writing is good but the novel, as a whole, doesn’t hold. We stress this point because most manuscripts are rejected early because of poor writing. A rejection naming poor technical execution implies that the editor has read the manuscript, or at least part of it, and not just a couple of pages.
Without the professional counsel of a good editor, it’s almost impossible to address plot, pace, tension and other technical aspects that a line edit cannot repair. The gestalt tool can help, though it’s difficult and time consuming. It means breaking down the manuscript into parts, the parts into chapters, the chapters into scenes and the scenes into sections. Naturally, this means separate documents.
The next step consists of a MS Excel spreadsheet or a few large sheets of paper, though doing a gestalt by hand can be soul destroying.
Part. The first division concerns the parts of a novel. Usually there are three: beginning, middle, and ending. If the novel can be divided into more clearly defined parts, it would mean more divisions. Once those divisions are made, the next step is to resume as succinctly as possible the gist of what that part is supposed to achieve: beginning, middle, and ending.
Chapter. The second division concerns the chapters. Each chapter is allocated on its corresponding part. We might end up with part one comprising chapters one to ten, second part with chapters eleven to thirty-two and so on. Next comes a short resume of the plot within the chapter and its task relative to plot, once more with: beginning, middle, and ending.
Scene. This is the third division, dividing the text into scenes and allocating each to a given chapter. And, yes, each scene needs a mini-resume and the mandatory beginning, middle, and ending.
Scene parts. So far we have insisted doggedly on beginnings, middles, and endings because these should mark natural breaks in the story: the part should have a chapter or chapters covering its beginning, other chapter or chapters to its middle, and the rest of the chapters to its ending. The same happens with chapters. Sometimes, a chapter consists of a single scene containing the three sections. If there are two scenes, one will correspond to the beginning and the other to the ending. If there are more scenes, some will correspond to the middle.
And we come to the scenes. Since these should have three sections, the writer’s task is to split the scene into its parts. In other words, we need a line to outline the purpose of each scene section.
When done, we will have hacked the manuscript and reduced to its constituent parts. By compiling our resumes in the right order, we will have a diagram looking something like the diagram on page XXX.
In the diagram, we have apportioned three chapters to a section, thee scenes in each chapter, and three sections to each scene. Naturally, no book fits all these parameters. We’ve used three units each for simplicity, but the concept holds regardless of the number of items in each division. Some parts have any number of chapters, divided into any number of scenes.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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