Revising Your ABC exercise

In the previous post I talked about the objective reality of the story. This reality is made up of objects, concrete and sensory details. For example, “cake” is an object. It has a taste, a smell, a texture. More important, it offers me, the writer, opportunities.

I always tell my students when they’re revising that the first draft provides opportunities.  An opportunity, to me, is anything that allows you deepen and expand the story. Let’s take cake, from my Zach and Miranda story.

About last night, Zach had no memory. Beer flowed freely at Miranda’s party, as it always did, and there had been little to eat. Cake at midnight and before that, little cocktail wieners on toothpicks. Dinner wasn’t the point though, it never was with Miranda, who liked snicky snacks and nibbles, preferably from a can or a box or a bag.

If Miranda, who “liked snicky snack and nibbles” had a cake, what would it look like? Would it be a standard sheet cake from the Giant Eagle in Pittsburgh? Or a William Greenberg chocolate candy cake from Madison Avenue in New York? Is the story set in New York then or did she have it shipped in, at great expense? Or maybe it’s a yarn cake, like the kind a friend made for me once, three perfectly iced balls of yarn in basket with two needles (real) sticking out of it?

Food is always a great way to characterize people and develop setting and context. When you see food in a story, pay attention to how it functions. A William Greenberg shipped in from New York suggests someone with money, but the cocktail wieners on toothpicks suggest either a lack of taste or someone who doesn’t know how to spend her money well or any number of things you think of. A yarn cake opens up all kinds of other possibilities.  As I’m rewriting, though, I’m not focusing on that--I’m staying with the food, the solid objects that are present in this moment in the story.

Given who I think Zach is--mildly disapproving of Miranda, hungover and grumpy by the time he’s remembering these events--I’m going to change Beer to Booze. Zach drinks gin and tonics, carefully crafted cocktails, expensive red wine. He doesn’t approve of things that come from “a can or a box or a bag,” so I’m guessing he’s a bit of a food snob, which extends to his drinks.

A common mistake students make--not only in this story but in stories they write on their own--is not naming their characters. Names are important. I decided consciously to take care of the troublesome Z by naming a character Zach. And I don’t like wallowing around with unattended pronouns as I write, so Miranda got a name too. So two letters that come later have been taken care of. Z took me by surprise the first time I did this exercise--I’d forgotten all about it. That story, which I will share later, has an obvious and somewhat corny ending. Unavoidable because when I got to Z, I was stuck and Ron Carlson had to step in and save the day.

I’ve also done myself another favor in these four lines. Besides naming my characters, I’ve given myself two characters and a situation. Parties are great--there are all kind of opportunities for trouble. And two characters in a room is better than one. One character alone in story can lead to static writing. One unnamed character in a story in which the only sensory detail is “wind” or “rain” won’t take you very far. Give that girl a name and some galoshes. The old fashioned kind that you pull over your shoes. The kind that might make her stand out at school.

Tags: Revision, ABC, Prompts

Geeta KothariRevision, ABC, Prompts