Posts Tagged Hereafter

How to revise your novel if you can’t get into it – take time to dress the set again

When you left the draft, you were living and breathing the story. When you go back to revise, one of the biggest hurdles is recreating that familiarity. How do you take control again?

The email was headed: ‘Here’s that film you were in!’ Hereafter, the Clint Eastwood film in which I was an extra, has just been released, and friends are making my day by sending me links whenever it’s mentioned in the press. Yesterday I got an article about a chap in London whose house was used as a location. It had to double for another house already used in the film, and the crew added false tips to the railings, replaced the front door, recoiffed the pot plants and wallpapered the hall.

It struck me that that’s a lot like revisiting a novel to do revisions. To start with I feel I don’t know the story any more, or live inside the characters, or remember the geography of their world. I have to go through a mental set-building phase in order to feel at home there again.

But I don’t just tip into the draft. That keeps me on the outside, like a new reader, and I need to be inside, behind the scenes, taking control of it all. I need to dress the set again. Here’s what I do.

1 Never throw your notes away

From the moment I start planning a book I keep copious notes. About the world, the synopsis, the characters. In one novel I’m planning, there’s a discography of all the music that exists in the world. When it’s time to revise I read them all again.

So many writers I know throw away these files when they send the novel out or hand it to their editor. But it’s never too late for somebody to suggest another round of revisions. The only time it’s safe to throw away your notes is when the book is between covers.

2 Get out your soundtrack

I need no excuse to make soundtracks for my books. First there are the pieces of music I choose to help evoke the initial mood of the story (and are an excuse to browse the Listmanias on Amazon). Then there are the tracks that grab me while I’m working on the book – a talisman for a particular scene, a theme to connect me to a character. Each of my books has a soundtrack, and I dust it off when I need to reconnect with the book again.

3 Make a beat sheet – or read an old one

There’s an exercise I always do before a major edit. It’s called the beat sheet, which becomes an at-a-glance blueprint for revision. It helps me take charge of the book again because it focuses on the underlying purpose of each scene. Once I’m done with the revision, I keep the beat sheet because if I need to revisit the draft, the beat sheet helps me rebuild the set again.

Thank you, E Bartholomew on Flickr, for the photo. The beat sheet is one of the tools from Nail Your Novel, Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. Read an excerpt in the widget on the right, and read Amazon reviews of it here

Guys, what do you do to rebuild the set for a revision?

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From fragments we build a story – holy cow I’m in a movie with Matt Damon and directed by Clint Eastwood

I was hereabouts

Apologies for the bragging headline. At the beginning of 2010 I was an extra in Clint Eastwood’s latest film, Hereafter, starring Matt Damon. However, I also feel there is a level-headed, writerly post in it…

I just stumbled across my first review of Hereafter, in The Economist. I am of course, detonating with excitement (although I have to wait until January before it arrives in the UK). But reading the review, I can see for the first time how the scenes I was in fitted with the whole story. (Possible spoiler alert – there’s nothing here the press hasn’t shared, but if you hate to know anything about a film you want to see, you may want to look away.)

On the set I saw fragments –

Matt Damon going out of the front doors of Alexandra Palace looking upset

Crowd scenes at the London Book Fair

A female character giving a reading from a book on the afterlife

Some twins, one dead

A ghostly boy wandering through the Book Fair crowds

The ghostly boy’s twin chasing Matt Damon’s character

Derek Jacobi giving readings of Little Dorrit

These fragments have become:

‘Marie has a near-death experience and … writes about scientific evidence for an afterlife… Marcus’s twin brother dies in an accident and he goes looking for a psychic who can communicate with the dead… Lonely George (Damon), whose supernatural gift has wrecked his chances with a giggly beauty …  goes to sleep listening to Charles Dickens audio books. Indeed, Dickens turns out to be the improbable thread that will bring all three characters to the London Book Fair, where Sir Derek Jacobi is reading from Little Dorrit.’

Suddenly, it’s a story.

It reminded me of how I feel when I’m putting a novel together.

To start with, everything is fragments – locations I want to use, characters I know will be important, revelations I feel will be pivotal. Scenes that come in a flash of inspiration. None of them seem to particularly connect. It’s like seeing each of them down a telephoto lens and not knowing what’s around the edges, how it connects with everyone else.

Seeing the first reviews of Hereafter have reminded me of the fragments I was involved in. And at the time, my WIP was at a very sketchy stage, but now the view has widened. The threads have pulled together. Themes have emerged and resound throughout the story. And it’s now making sense.

It’s funny to look back and think what scant material I started with.

Do you find this with your novels? Or are you thinking, never mind about the writing, tell us about being in the darn film. Ask me anything you like in the comments. Or watch the Hereafter trailer here

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