We Have To Go Smaller

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

If you’ve followed my updates or my newsletter, or just heard me ranting, you know that I’ve been very busy lately. Because I was so busy, I kept trying to power through the draft of my next novel, a School of Many Futures. Sadly, the powered through version felt off, emotionally disconnected. When it’s a sequel to your first novel, and a skewering of the “special school” genre, you want proper emotional connection, if only so the jokes land point-first.

So I began looking over what had happened to the writing, because this bloody well didn’t feel like my last book.

I had a good outline, using a mix of my own techniques and the snowflake method. That had helped me write.

My writing was fast. I can easily put out 2K words or more an hour. The outline helped.

But everything felt off. That’s when I figured out what had happened – I had written to the outline, but not engaged emotionally with the contents. I had missed the fine details, the feelings, the subtle connections. Being tired from so much going on, I had written, but I hadn’t written well.

With that revelation, I asked – how do I get back into the swing of things?

Well, the problem wasn’t with the outline, it was with the scenes. So with that in mind, and with a few ideas from Randy Ingermanson, I decided to rewrite each scene. I set out specific goals:

  1. Each scene would be a “Crucible” as Randy put it – there had to be a reason to be there.
  2. Each scene should be a relateable scene, and give us a character viewpoint.
  3. I would rework the chapters slowly so I really recovered my connection with the story and characters.

In short, I went smaller.

The result? The result is the rewritten work already feels much better – literally like a different story. Characters are more alive, stakes clearer, and even some of my outline has changed as I’ve made discoveries about my creations. Getting smaller made things bigger.

(By the way, I don’t think this negates my earlier advice of “power through when writing.” I had to do this to find my flaws.)

But there was an additional lesson here. Sometimes while redoing scenes I found a sequence didn’t work. Or a paragraph didn’t. Or a sentence didn’t. Sometimes I had to go even smaller in my focus.

We often get caught up in the big picture, not realizing it’s made of many smaller pictures, a network of them. Sometimes we have to ignore a story to work on a scene.

But maybe, there are times we ignore a scene to get a sequence of events right.

Or we ignore a sequence of events to get a paragraph right.

Or we ignore a paragraph to get a sentence right.

There are times we have to think smaller or we just don’t connect with our works. We get lost in the big picture with no idea what it’s made of. We become ungrounded trying to follow an outline. We get lost while knowing where we’re going.

So next time you’re writing and it’s not working, stop thinking bigger. Think smaller. It may just make your work the next big thing

Steven Savage