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Animating Your Work as You Go: Revising by Rereading and Rewriting

Want a living, breathing work of fiction? Writing is a recursive process. Two steps forward and one step back. Sometimes, it becomes one step forward and two steps back. When you have “finished” a chapter in a novel, it is tempting to press forward without returning to the previous work. Stop. Go back. Go back often over the work you have already written. As much as this process may feel frustrating when you want to move toward story conclusion and novel completion, it is necessary.

Revisions are about much more than finding errors in names, punctuation, and grammar. Story is a living creature as you write. The shape of your creature is constantly moving. When you create new parts of the story without going back, you solidify it, set the early chapters in concrete. Less experienced writers are tempted to take action in only one direction: forward. They don’t want to “waste time” by going back over what they have written with the expected, disappointing results.

Recursive writing is not so much about going back to avoid missing an error although authors will catch errors of every type when returning to their own work. Rather, revisiting your earlier chapters will help you see how the story you’re creating is evolving, moving itself, sometimes shifting away from a direction the author intended. Characters may shake their heads at your design. Allow them input. Your protagonist is not going to reveal his flaw to any other character, after all. Your villain is more sympathetic than you intended. What your characters intend may be much more important to giving life to your fiction than your original design. Listen. Reread your work again and again.

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