Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.
(Ernest Hemingway, “The Art of Fiction,” The Paris Review Interview, 1956)
As we get more specific in our rewrite, we are still holding our story loosely. We are always looking for ways to clarify, tighten, layer information, and conflate scenes, but the rewrite is not solely about contraction. Our manuscript is a living document. It contracts and expands as we move toward a more specific understanding of what we are attempting to express.
In the rewrite there are probably scenes that seem disconnected from each other. Exploring the connective tissue takes imagination. How do our characters get from here to there? We must allow ourselves to be surprised. As outlandish as our hero’s choices may appear, our only job is to support these choices, like a child does when he tells a story. A child’s explanations are seamless, assured, and have a certain (though often cockeyed) logic. If you’ve ever done improvisation, you know that rule #1 is to never negate. Your task is to always support what your partner has given you, while advancing the scene. This is our task in the rewrite. If we suddenly discover that our character is left-handed, we are curious about all that this means. If we discover that she was a golf pro in her earlier years, we are curious about how this experience has impacted her life, her relationships and her new profession as the night guard at a toy factory. Every choice we make has a ripple effect on the rest of our story. Be curious about these effects.
We don’t try and control the world. Our characters will resent us, and our imagination will pick up its ball and go home. By remaining true to the world that is being created through us, our story takes on the feel of reality. As we relax and trust our unconscious, it will make the connections naturally. Our job is simply to remain curious about where we are being led.
It’s challenging to continue holding the story loosely in the rewrite. We are making choices, while staying connected to that ineffable impulse that got us writing in the first place. Trust that within all of these pages is a basic idea that is valid and wants to be expressed. If you feel overwhelmed, step back and ask yourself “What am I trying to say?” In the rewrite we are looking for the most effective way to express a core idea. Anything that feels like it’s getting in the way . . . we can let go.
Please let me know your thoughts.
The 90-Day Novel © Telecourse
Next class begins Mon. Sept. 18, 2017