The Battle of Chapter 5: If Revising Doesn’t Kill You…

In the beginning, there was chapter five and it sucked. Nothing happened. This is the epic saga of my battle to transform a boring moment of peace into a powerful pain and revelation filled stepped forward in my novel. How do you confront the chapter that you love, but is clearly just boring?

I’ve been revising chapter 5 of the Horde for the past two weeks. Since it’ll be part of the initial five chapters offered from Podiobooks and it also concludes the first “arc” of the book, I wanted to make it awesome.

Originally chapter five consisted the main character running away from the real world to take solace as two others bonded and chatted and laughed over dinner. It was two pages long. Nothing happened.

I tried replacing words with stronger words or at least longer words. I tried adding more physical action and some opinions from the narrator to make it a bit more driven by the story. The whole time I knew the truth- chapter five had to go. It had to die for the sake of the story.

It only took me two weeks of rewriting to come to this truth and accept it. I’ve been in a bubble, just the Chapter five and I, like the knight and death playing chess from that movie the Seventh Seal.

The only way I could win was by grabbing the chessboard and beating death over the head with it and running like a madmen in the opposite direction. So I did.

Now chapter five is an anchor point of the story. I moved two major plot revelations, an event that explains some more of the “rules” of the Horde universe and how it functions, and a stick fight. It is much better now.

Instead of ending with a very lame “I’m going to run away and dream” chapter five ends with a declaration of intent from one of the major characters as to their goals and sets up the beginning of the second arc of the book.

The odd part is the literal series of events of the chapter is unchanged- two guys sit around a fire cooking and arguing over food. However the dialogue, the description, the interactions, all now have been rewritten to do, among other things:

  • Foreshadow some dark secrets about my swordsman hero
  • Build a bit more the environment and tone of the world of Farrakan
  • Give the reader more guidance as to the nature of some of the monsters
  • Show a bit about the three different kinds of “magic” in the book wihtout actually doing an infodump of mystic technobabble.
So I want to discuss process, because the writing process is the only reason that my two page nothing happens chapter five has been replaced by the decent length meaty chunk of madness that now sits in its place.
  • Step 1: Print out both pages chapter five. Write all over it with ideas to make it better, longer, more gripping, more interesting. Particularly note turns of phrase that are trite, over used, cliche, or just been done before.
  • Step 2: Type up chapter five with all these changes, carefully crafting it into a longer more detailed character study of Bridan and Oren, adding details to the world and their character.
  • Step 3: Print it out and read it. Reread it for three days puzzling what’s wrong.
  • Step 4: Pull out my Thinkpak (brainstorming cards) to evaluate what could be wrong. Come up with a gazillion ideas.
  • Step 5: Realize it is actually really quite simple. The problem is that nothing happens. I came to this realization because I kept sitting around saying to Michelle and Reesa that “nothing happens and I can’t figure out how to make it interesting.”
  • Step 6: Realize I’m not Nathan Lowell. He can write about the boring day to day stuff and make it neat. This whole book is about escaping the boring day to day stuff.
  • Step 7: Step by step “and then” analysis of chapter five inspired by a commentary from the Dr. Who War Machines serial, if I recall correctly. Basically they said the story is a series of this happens and then this happens and then this happens. When I sum the chapter up, I realize…. nothing happens.
  • Step 8: Break out my copy of Hamlet’s Hit Points by Robin D. Laws and analyze the beats of the chapter, realizing that a chapter that was written to provide a peaceful respite from the agony of chapter 2 and 3 is actually just flat and has no emotional wait.
  • Step 9: Brainstorm and identify what I want the chapter to accomplish in terms of tone, plot development, character.
  • Step 10: Double check I want all this, toss out things that sound stupid such as “detailed description of the taste of barbecued rat.” I may come back to that but it wasn’t time. Also toss out the gratuitous fight scene with a zombie skull monster.
  • Step 11:  Write the chapter based on the ideas and outline I’d just crafted, making sure to have fun doing  it and describing things in the voice of the narrator or the characters.
  • Step 12: Print and read it, realize that a chapter that previously had no center now has a strong central idea and a core that holds it together, giving it weight.
  • Step 13: Repeat step 1. I’m back at the beginning. I just marked all over chapter five and my mind is overflowing with neat stuff to say about the characters and the world and the plot. Plus, I managed to keep in the comic relief scene where they duel with kabob skewers.
  • Step 14: Accept that, despite the fact that Step 13 and Step 1 were the same, this is the writing process. If I’m going to successfully release a version of this book that meets my expectations and satisfies me, I’ll be going in circles like this many more times as I try to make each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence, each word, even each punctuation mark as powerful as possible.
Thus the battle of chapter 5 is over, but the war is never ending. I’m thinking I might write a more detailed piece of some of the tools I use. Is there interest? How do you confront the painful inevitability of starting from scratch with a piece of writing you love?
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