Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rewriting Prompt the First

If you dropped in on Monday, you saw the first of my weekly writing prompts. Today, I launch another feature: REwriting prompts.

Writing prompts are great for helping you get something written, but finishing a story is another animal entirely. Rewriting and editing fiction involve a different mindset from writing it, and I hope that these rewriting prompts will help you develop that mindset in which the story momentarily takes a backseat and you focus on structure, sentences, words, and metaphors. It's this type of shift that helps a writer turn a good story into a good story well-told.

As I said with Monday's writing prompt, you might not end up with anything publishable. That's okay — this is batting practice. If you do create something groovy and decide to share it, please do come back and post a link to it in the comments section.

So here it is, your first rewriting prompt:

Start with a scene — either something you've written or someone else's work — and switch out its main character with a character from another work of fiction. Here are some possibilities:
Source: BBC Radio
  • Let Sherlock Holmes stand in for Nick Carroway in The Great Gatsby. What would he have already deduced about Jay Gatsby before he even makes an entrance? How would he react to either of the two deaths in the novel?
  • Imagine if the narrator in Cormac McCarthy's The Road were Count Dracula. Why is he really protecting the boy?
  • What would The Old Man and the Sea's Santiago, in Ishmael's stead, make of Captain Ahab's white-whale obsession?
How does the scene play out differently? What choices did the original protagonist make that would be out of character for this new interloper?

Ulterior motive

A story isn't really a story (not a good one, anyway) if things just happen to people. Story has to do with how the character is affected by what happens and what choices the character makes. Choices are linked to a character's personality and experiences.

As you rewrite your scene, pay attention to how your literary interloper's personality changes the situation — changes the story. In so doing, you should also begin to recognize the nuances of the original protagonist's personality and how they dictated the course of the original scene.

To take this into your own writing, remember that every choice a character makes (and inaction is a choice) must derive from some ultimate internal source. The reader doesn't always need to know what that source is (at least not at the time of the action), but you, the writer, certainly do.