Juggling

In the process of writing a story, there’s a lot to keep track of. You’ve got 17 balls in the air at once, or more likely a diverse collection of stuff that includes a bowling ball, a lighted torch, a razor blade, a slice of pizza, and a live gerbil, and you have to be able to juggle them all — not just keep from dropping any of them, but make it look easy!

Right now I’m critiquing a middle-grade novel by a friend of mine. It’s an interesting story, and my friend has worked hard on rewrites. I approve of rewriting, don’t get me wrong. But as you’re rewriting, you need to remember where the bowling ball and the live gerbil are.

In chapter 2, my friend mentions an offstage character by name. In chapter 4, when we meet him, she refers to him strictly by description, as if he’s a stranger to the viewpoint character. In chapter 4, the vice-principal has a drawer full of cell phones that have been taken away from students, but back in chapter 2 one of the lead character’s friends has a cell phone plainly visible on the playground and isn’t worried that it might be confiscated.

It’s all about continuity. You have to know where the lighted torch and the slice of pizza are, because that information may become important at any moment.

I’ve been known to make the same kind of mistake. In my own rewrite process (yes, I’m still working on The Firepearl Chalice, thanks for asking), yesterday I spotted a line where one character is asking another about something that she had no way of knowing about. Was that mistake left over from an earlier draft, or was I just being sloppy when I wrote the conversation? Who knows? Fortunately, my computer is equipped with a Delete key.

I’ve reached the point in the rewrite where, as I contemplate the next chapter, I’m making a little list of the things some of the main characters know or don’t know at that point. Also what their agendas are. It helps to revise a scene if you know that Clothnac knows Roma is probably the Scion’s new mistress, and suspects that she is the one who sabotaged the barges using a magical implement she borrowed from him, and can guess who gave her the emerald pendant, but doesn’t know she was arrested.

Roma being arrested — yes, about that. I added a bit in which she is planning to put the signet ring she stole back into the desk from which she stole it. Shortly afterward she’s arrested, and I realized the officers were going to search her — because why wouldn’t they? And she still has the signet ring! So I had to figure out how she would keep them from finding it. If I had added the sentence about her planning to put it back, and then added the passage where she’s searched, without noticing that I had given her the ring, the live gerbil would have dropped to the floor and scampered away, and then where would I be? It’s all juggling.

Fortunately, Roma is fiendishly clever. She gets into awful scrapes, and then I have to sit and stare at the computer screen until she figures out how to talk her way out of her latest mess. And she isn’t even the main character. Sometimes rewriting is fun, there’s that too.

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