Remember that post from November about Perspective? (No? It’s okay. I’ve linked to it.). It came back to me after the editing/rewriting I worked on last night for my next novel.
The entire chapter was one scene–a street brawl between one of the three primary POV characters and someone posing a threat to his client. The chapter had originally been written from his perspective. But for logistical reasons, it made more sense to have the scene told from the viewpoint of one of the other primary characters. I rewrote it last year, changing the POV from that of a mature, one-legged former soldier named Franklin, to that of a young teen/failed suicide named Juliet. Then I moved on to the next chapter.
But when I got to the chapter in my massive fine-tuning project, the chapter read flat. The action was all there, and it was, for the most part, clearly narrated. I cleaned up the few confusing bits of action, and did some general tightening up, but it still didn’t sit right with me. That night, when it I was turning it around and around in my head (and, at least in theory, trying to sleep), it hit me. I had removed Franklin’s voice, but Juliet’s was nowhere to be found.
What I had was a relatively cold and distant description of physical activity. It was mechanical. That doesn’t work for sex scenes and it doesn’t work for action either–at least not for long stretches. So I tore the chapter apart again and asked the hard questions.
It wasn’t enough to describe what she saw. She had grown up seeing street brawls. She had an emotional connection to the fight, even if she didn’t have one to the people involved in this particular fight. But these characters will become important to each other later, so by letting her make observations and interpret them through the lens of her own experiences, I got to build that foundation.
It meant taking out sentences where she was too much in the fighter’s heads, second-guessing their motives. Instead, I had to focus on what she saw, what she thought it meant, and why. Every theory she had needed to be backed up with justification–not just simple statements.
The chapter went from showing Franklin overcoming a threat, to Juliet seeing how competently he dealt with the threat. Franklin started off as hero material. But it took Juliet seeing that and understanding why for him to actually reach towards that heroic potential.
The chapter started off as competent.
And competent just isn’t good enough for me anymore. Not when I know I can do better. And I can do better.
And now it’s a hell of a lot better. I might go so far as to say it’s pretty damn good.
Another two or three passes, it might even be great.
After all, isn’t that the whole point of rewrites?