Revising: Why You May Need to Re-Vision Your Story

Sunday, May 05, 2019
A grade school photo
of my Dad
Round and round she goes! Where she stops, nobody knows!

Lately it feels like whenever I start a new piece, I’m spinning the writing roulette wheel. I start out thinking that I am writing a picture book. But then it turns into something else. I was in the middle of baking a cake when an idea popped into my head. I’ve been contemplating writing about triplets since we have triplets in my husband’s family and a friend has three sets of triplet grandchildren.

There are, apparently, very few children’s books that feature triplets. Most sibling sets in literature are twins. And according to my friend, that’s a pity. Keeping track of triplets is almost impossible so triplets would make really fun characters.

So I roughed out my picture book, complete with a fun chorus that is repeated throughout the text. It didn’t quite work so I took it to my critique group. It turns out that my manuscript was too minimalist but they gave me a number of helpful suggestions.

The first thing I did was deepen my characterization. Each of my agents of chaos needed a distinct personality. Unfortunately, as I made these and other changes necessary to a better story, the picture book manuscript got worse, not better. It was just too busy for a clean picture book manuscript.

If only I could write it as a graphic novel.

Wait a minute. Why can’t I? If it works as a graphic novel, it just might be a graphic novel. For those of you who have never written a graphic novel, the manuscript looks more like a script than a straight up manuscript. This meant that changing it from a picture book to a graphic novel meant a steep learning curve for this writer but it was worth it. I feel like it is finally coming together.

Dad is the one hating that suit.
But this isn’t the only time this has happened to me lately. Last week, my dad, who has dementia, had to be admitted to the hospital through the ER. After spending 12 hours in the ER of one hospital, an ambulance had to move him to another hospital. And they forgot his clothes. Let’s just say the day was a snafu of epic proportions. To process it, I roughed out an essay.

Not bad, I thought, but not right either. It was obvious that to keep it from being maudlin I needed to ramp up the humor. But that wasn’t the only problem. To understand his attempts to make a break for it and so many other parts of the day, you have to know Dad. And me. And our whole wacky family.

The rough essay was already 2000 words. This meant that once I work in his four year-old free climb up the mountain, his father dragging disobedient boys into the mine, a pressure cooker accident that involved a jammed up pinto bean, and stories about Dad as a parent to a finicky little girl – that would be me . . . I can’t even guess how long it would be because the more I think about it the more stories relate to that day in the ER.

Sure, I could try to mash it all into one essay but the topics feel far too scattered. Heaven help me, this sounds more like a book-length family memoir than an essay. 

My words of advice to my fellow writers? The next time you are trying to write something new and it just won’t work, maybe you need to do more than a simple rewrite. Maybe what you really need to do is re-vision it.

The problem may not be in the story itself. It might be that you are trying to use the wrong story telling form for this particular story.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins May 20th, 2019.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--First of all, my heart is breaking for you. My dad had Alzheimer's. He had pneumonia a couple of times, and I prayed he wouldn't make it. (The man I knew as Dad had been gone for a long time. He didn't know anyone, and his days were spent vacantly staring at nothing in particular.) When he finally died, it was a blessing.

Two--a graphic novel? That is super exciting. You are a true chameleon. You're writing a cozy, you write children's nonfiction. Now a graphic novel and a memoir? Wow.

Finally, a change of genre can eliminate the blockage, allowing the words to flow. When I was 11 I fell off (the side) of the high diving board. My body landed (luckily) in the pool, but my arm landed on the concrete. I couldn't get up out of the pool, and I looked up at the guard's chair. It was empty, and I panicked. Little did I know he had dived in as soon as the accident happened. (I'll get that's never happened to your son.)

I tried to write it as a memoir (a couple of decades ago). It didn't work. Then I tried it as a free verse poem. And it became one of my poems I'm most proud of.

Good luck with the 142 projects you're currently juggling.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--I forgot to say this. When I first saw the photo (of your dad) I knew it was your post. You look so much like your dad. The look in the eyes. The nose. (At least that's my opinion.)

With all the sorrow that your dad's situation involves, remember that you're keeping his memory alive--in body and in spirit.

Nicole Pyles said...

I'm with Sioux, you absolutely have your dad's eyes. I think how you are processing everything going on with your dad is so inspiring. And a novel length memoir sounds amazing! It's like you've pulled that creative thread and it turned out to be a quilt rather than a sock. Your post helped me rethink a short story. It's my historical one and I think I may attempt to modernize it. (I have a huge respect for historical fiction writers as me attempting to research this piece intimidates me). Reworking a story's vision is often EXACTLY what a story needs!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Dad obviously still knows us. But when he sundowns, look out.

But I get what you mean. And it is tough. Thank you for getting that!

I told my son your high dive story. When I got to the part about the stand being empty, he interupted me. "The guard was already in the pool. That's what I would have done." Interesting that you weren't able to write it up as memoir but poetry worked.

You will have to keep us posted re: how the story works as a contemporary. I love research but often leap before I've really done enough.

And I definitely know that we look alike. My pastor has only known Dad since he's been sick but laughs that we still have many of the same mannerisms and sense of humor. That's something I'm going to try to bring out in the memoir.


Renee Roberson said...

Oh, I have re-visioned so many of my projects over the years! My current YA started out as an adult novel and was double the length. I finally decided to cut out the "adult" years of the story and focus in on the teens to make it a YA. It seems better now, but we'll see. I also wrote up a nonfiction book proposal once about writing for the parenting market, but after a few agent rejections took some of the material and repurposed them into writing craft articles (one I sold to The Writer magazine).

I love how you've refused to set these projects aside and are giving them a chance to work in other forms. Good luck!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Good for you! Talk about someone who doesn't just set projects aside.

You know how it goes - sometimes you have to let them rest while you figure something out. But if you love a piece you will come back to it.


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