Rewriting 101: Spring 2011

In the Spring of 2011, Bob taught a course on Rewriting at Hugo House in Seattle. Hugo House is a sanctuary for writers—poets read there, novelists launch their work there, hungry writers take classes there. Hugo House is a resource like no other in Seattle, maybe in the country. Bob decided to keep a log to track the course and to monitor writers’ progress through their rewriting. The course was designed to work for novel, script, stage play. The techniques Bob used help writers get control of the rewriting process from subplot to character development, from structure to style.

To follow the course, which you can duplicate for your own story, at your own pace, try running the sequence from beginning to end, one entry a day. If you find the process useful, drop us a comment. Good luck, good writing. 

Week One: Introduction – Story
Following the writer introductions – who’s writing what, how it’s going – we’ll work on story. Definition: story is a competition for a resource base. Cinderella wants the castle. Jane wants Thornfield Hall. We’ll toss around the parts of a story: Place, Characters and Roles (Protag, Antag, Helper), Resource Base as the object of desire, core stories (there are seven), Ritual and Archetype, Objects (possession, need, greed, thievery, envy, etc.), biology in the subtext, back story trauma as Motivation.

  • A warmup writing that probes your novel or filmscript.
  • Scene Performance: We’ll view our first scene performance, with the cast drawn from fellow writers.
  • Homework that links to Week Two.

Week Two: Structure.
Structure is an arrangement of parts. Acts are made up of scenes. A scene is made up of setting, character, dialogue, action, intruder, ending. Two of the most helpful structures for rewriting are the Sexual Triad and the Closed Circle and Intruder. You can read more about the Sexual Triad in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel. To grasp the importance of the Intruder penetrating the Closed Circle, we’ll do some writing.

  • Scene performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Three.

Week Three: Subplots.
Subplot is the secondary story running under the plot. The smart rewrite starts with Subplot One, the path of your antagonist. If you were F. Scott Fitzgerald rewriting The Great Gatsby, you would rewrite Daisy’s subplot first. When you work with subplots, you need tools and techniques: a character arc to chart the subplot from entry to exit; a core story to separate the subplot from the plot and the other subplots; tools like scene profile and scene template to keep you moving. For example, Daisy’s core story is King Replacement. Her arc stretches from the Crimson Room in Act One to Escape at the end of Act Three. (There are three meaty chapters on subplots in The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel.)

  • Scene Performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Four.

Week Four: Key Scenes.
A key scene marks acts, openings, closings, curtains rising and falling, turning points, drama. In the novel and the filmscript, there are seven key scenes: Page One and After, Plot Point One, Midpoint, Plot Point Two, Climax, Ending, and First Encounter. When you rewrite, you lock down the First Encounter first: Lover A meets Lover B; Protag meets Antag; Sleuth meets Killer; Hero meets Monster. Handy tools are scene profile and scene template. Handy structures are scene sandwich and scene sequence.

  • Scene Performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Five.
  • Suggested reading: Two books by Barbara Walker: The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (Kingship, Knights Templar, Marriage); and The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (dive in, go deep).

Week Five: Style, Archetype, Symbol.
Style comes from word-choice: strong verbs and concrete nouns. Archetypes link your characters to their mythic ancestors. Symbols come from concrete nouns canonized by repetition, need, emotion, sweat, and careful placement. Whether your writing is plain or florid, your work lives or dies on its words. If you are a writer, you’ll spend every waking hour conjuring new ways to say the same things – I am here, I am alive, Who am I, What is betrayal, Where is the path, Why should I, What is that light at the, I am not dead – and your style will shift, stutter, soar, roar, rise, fall, crawl, weep, laugh, sing, cling. On a lucky day, you’ll run nose-first into an archetypal structure like King-Queen-Stranger, which opens the door to a Sexual Triad, heretofore buried in the muck of your prose, that could make you famous.

  • Scene Performance.
  • Homework that links to Week Six.

Week Six: Scene Performance.
Whether you are rewriting a novel or a filmscript, scene performance brings your work into the world. When you watch your scene being read, you learn big lessons about timing, compression, pacing, waste, laughs, moans, chills, and momentary glory. Five weeks of work climax here, in a five minute read. A smart writer takes notes. Instructor feedback is optional. Curtain.

To prepare for Hugo House – or to keep writing – join the sweaty writers for writing practice at Louisa’s Bakery and Café, Eastlake Avenue, NW of Seward Alternative School, Tuesdays and Fridays from 2:15-3:25. No critique.

Bio:Robert Ray’s most recent book, The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel (2010), follows in the wake of The Weekend Novelist (original 1994; revised 2006) and The Weekend Novelist Writes a Mystery (1998, co-authored by Jack Remick). In addition to the Weekend Novelist series, Ray has published 5 mysteries, two thrillers (tennis; diamonds), a police procedural, and a how-to for small business.

Week by week Syllabus:

© 2011 Robert J. Ray. All Rights Reserved.