What Do I Know To Be True? by Chris Tebbetts
When I think about the difference between the writer I am today and the writer I was in my own school days (he said, ham-handedly shoe horning his blog post into this month’s topic :-), I’d say that one of the big differences is my relationship to revision. Like a lot of the students I meet these days at author events and school visits, I used to want my my first drafts to also be my last drafts. I wanted to write the book report, or story, or whatever it was once through and be done with it.
But of course, we all know that’s not how it works. Writing, as they say, is rewriting. And the cool thing about growing into my own adult relationship with that unavoidable truth, is that I’ve come to see how much easier, and even more fun, revision can be as compared to drafting, and to filling those blank pages with ideas, sentences, words…or anything at all!
The thing I (truthfully) say to kids about revision is that, for me, it’s a bit like I’ve spent all this time creating my puzzle pieces (i.e., my first draft), and now I can really start to play with them—moving them around, rearranging things, and pulling everything into one big (hopefully) cohesive picture. I suppose I run the risk of being seen as a big geek by calling that “the fun part,” but hey, I’ll take it.
There are, of course, endless tips and tricks to be shared in the topic of revision, but I’ll limit myself to just one here. It’s a question I ask myself all the time, once I have a first draft down and as I’m trying to figure out where to go next.
WHAT DO I KNOW TO BE TRUE?
This can apply to any aspect of the story I’m working on. What do I know to be true about this scene, this character, this narrative arc, this conflict…? The thing I like about it is that there's no way to not have an answer at any given moment. It’s an immediately achievable thing. And maybe it takes me all the way back to my very basics: I know that my character comes in at the beginning of the scene, and I know he leaves at the end. Period. Okay, well if that’s all I really know, even if that’s less than I wish I knew, it is an honest answer, and it’s a necessary next step in figuring out the rest.
Or, say, What do I know to be true of my character? Maybe I haven’t figured out what’s motivating that sudden road trip of his. But I know he loves his car, and I know he’s fifteen pounds overweight. Sometimes the details that don’t feel important in the first-drafting phase get mysteriously promoted by virtue of having shown up. They then find their way more deeply into the story by virtue of being true—if that’s what they ultimately are. True, as in, true to the character, true to the intention of the piece, true to the needs of the story.
One more version of this can be the way I edit a scene or a chapter. Instead of what do I know to be true…. What do I know to feel right as I read through what I have? Which sentences, which paragraphs are ringing authentically for me, or making me feel something, or just feel correct in whatever way? As an exercise, I’ll take a passage of text, cut everything else out (i.e., everything that’s not ringing true for me), and start rewriting from there. However disjointed the result is, it gives me a page, or a paragraph, or a sentence of honest bedrock from which to work.
Sometimes, the idea in revision is to simply keep moving, keep writing, keep revising, until the answers begin to present themselves. And for me, this has been one way to make sure that happens.
Happy rest of the summer to everyone! Current situation....