Daniel Orozco told the class that writing a story was like building a wall and all the words were bricks and you don’t build a wall all at once. It takes shape one brick at a time. Another construction metaphor was used in revision. Kim Barnes talked of remodeling the kitchen when thinking of reworking something. I mentioned this a to a builder friend of mine over a beer and she said, “Some times you have to knock down the kitchen because it’s on the wrong side of the house. Now that is something to think about.
When I go into revision mode I take the protagonist and ask the question “What do you want?” And I mean in the physical sense of the word and I begin free writing in the character’s point of view. I then ask, “No, what do you really want?” and I mean this in the emotional and/or spiritual sense of the word and begin free writing from that character’s point of view. For a while that was all I did. But then I started doing this with all the characters who appeared in my stories so I could develop them more and utilize them to their fullest potential. I did this because each character thinks he/she/it is the protagonist and they are from their point of view. In nonfiction I have told students to remember that they are only characters in somebody else’s story, but that doesn’t stop them from being complex or well thought out characters. So I started to develop the other characters in my stories in the same fashion. But still something lacked. Some verve of character interaction.
One day I was having a beer with Sten (my handy Steno Pad) hashing out a story line. I wrote at the top the character’s name and the two above questions. As I sat doodling a small bunny rabbit, wondering what next, I asked, “How the hell are you going to make that happen?” I wrote from the character’s point of view of how he planned to make it work. I then posed and wrote the same for all the characters in the story and behold some were at cross purposes and some were hidden, lending a certain amount of irony and misdirection in the character interaction. It’s like the argument or conversation you planned to have out with some one and then they say something you never thought of and throws off your entire plan. I hear a lot of failed heists and liquor store robberies have this same problem. Minor characters rise up and take over the story. They became more interesting and more complex than their original role allowed. To take a story and revise it from the point of view of another character is remodeling a story in a major way. You might discover you replaced the the kitchen on your Victorian with a Spanish style on the front. Now you’re really going to have to revise and knock everything down, except the kitchen and build a cohesive and unified story. Brick by adobe brick.