“Somebody call re-write!” That's one of the few lines I remember from an old movie, “The Front Page.” Clark Gable was the roving reporter and called the newsroom with a breaking story.
How I wish I could call re-write!
Last month I wrote about using an Excel spread sheet to analyze and revise my almost-done historical romance. I felt like it showed me some patterns – which characters took center stage and how often, as far as scenes in their POV; and some weak links in story logic.
That story is done now.
Next I started to look at a half-done sequel, another historical romance set during the Civil War. I have re-written the first chapter of this about six times, and after entering various versions in multiple contests, got feedback about interesting characters and settings. However, readers couldn't figure out where the characters were and why. That sounded like a problem.
I hope to finish this story between my job, the farm, the kids, 4-H, Little League and other summer fun. I'm trying to work smarter, not harder on filling holes in the story.
I started another spread sheet listing scenes in order in the first column; whose POV; and a one sentence summary.
Once again I started to see some patterns. For one thing, did it open where and when it needed to?
Actually, it didn't. Instead of in a corn field, why not start right in a disputed hayfield.
Well, that led to more questions. For one thing, if I opened the story in a hayfield, I had to forget about our hay-making operation of a mechanized mower, rake, baler and wagons. What kind of hay was raised in the Midwest in the 1860s? How did farmers put up hay? Was there some kind of mower? Rake? How about putting it up in the barn? How many people did this take? I took an enjoyable spin around the Internet as well as looking through some old faithful reference books about farm mechanization to find my answers.
What I found out about timothy hay and the Ketchum patented haymower from 1844 fired up my imagination.
But the best part is, I have a lot better grasp of how I want to re-do the opening as well as how to make some changes farther along. For me it's easier to consider the order of a few lines in a spread sheet than to ax pages and pages of writing. I might even be able to use the spread sheet as a checklist as I go on.
I would love to hear other ideas for working smarter, not harder!