The Rewrite – understandability 

After a brief malaise I have finally got back into the swing of writing. Having set out some targets for the rest of the year, I can now resume in earnest.

My first focus is on a short story. The first draft is done. I have feedback from other writers. Time for the rewrite.

I’ve split the rewrite into two broad sections. The first is more analysing my work. Feedback can support that analysis, but the change has to come from within (excuse the cliche). That is, I have to take ownership for the changes I make. 

The second part is actually crafting the second draft. Having identified the shortcomings or changes needed I focus on actually making those changes. 

I found a reasonable guide about breaking down rewrites into 6 distinct parts: understandability, structure, characters, dialogue, style and polish.
So my first stage is understandability. This I reckon should be at both the macro and micro level. Is the story coherent? Even if you read a draft would you get the premise? Then, are individual passages understandable? Does it make sense it’s writing?

First then, the story. It’s about a woman; she’s running. She’s being chased. She chooses to flee down a haunted path to escape. She falls into a river and is carried away deep into the forest. She meets a mysterious stranger. They wander for a while. She grows suspicious. Her pursuers return. The forest attacks them and the stranger. She is trapped by the forest.

I would say my story has some coherency. It’s deeper meaning comes later.

I then have the job of nit picking every sentence and word. I actually do that as part of my work, albeit in a very different context. I tend to be harsh (but fair, I like to think). I have to exercise the same strictness on my self – quite masochistic. The problem is it is a little subjective. This why you need feedback.

One thing that was highlighted was that I use the passive voice too often (no doubt a product from my more clinical day job). I provide insight by telling rather than showing. There are phrases like ‘She felt…’ Or ‘She was…’. There’s also repetition and duplication – ‘She felt hot. The Sun was bearing down on her…’ (You get the idea).

I also found some strange passages that really don’t mean anything. One particular one is ‘A beauty of haste.’ With some feedback there was the comment ‘poetic, but what does it mean?’

In truth, some of those passages are very much lacking in meaning. I recall the ‘beauty of haste’ one from the very first rough draft. I think I meant to write how she looked beautiful in her haste, but the line stuck. It’s lines like that I need to be most wary of, because they might seem to mean something without meaning anything (at least to the objective reader).

So understandability needs some working on, reshaping each line to be ‘on message’ for the reader. I don’t really want them to stop dead in a stir and left scratching their head about a confusing passage.


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