How You Re-Write 1: Revise with the B-M-E Chart

Re-writing is your friend. No, seriously. Re-writing is your BEST creative friend of all… Revisions, if you will. But when I teach and keynote and author coach and content edit, I make a clear distinction between line and copy editing and proof reading and the creative work of developmental editing, also known as re-writing.

And since for most of us mere mortals, our first full draft of a project rarely tumbles out of our brains fully realized, just dying to be written, part of our job–arguable the most important part of your job–is re-crafting that draft until it’s its best self. And that ain’t easy. In fact, resistance to re-working and re-writing and re-imagining the whole that’s sprouted from that kernel of an idea that drew you to write a story is the Number One reason a lot of authors never publish traditionally, and why a great deal of independently-published novels will never find a home in a reader’s heart.

Rewriting isn’t an easy friend. It’s overwhelming work, and creative fatigue and doubt and frustration can win the ensuing battle if you let them. But you’re a professional writer. Say it with me, “I’M A PROFESSIONAL WRITER.”

And your job is to take control of your creative process every step of the way. And for the purposes of this How You Write post, your job is to rewrite your draft for however long it takes for the story and characters and journeys you’ve created to connect with the reader on every level possible. You’re the boss, not the draft. You’re ready to work through the exhausting process of diving back in over and over. Really, you are ;o)

The way to do that?

Simple.

No, the process isn’t simple. But you job is, so to speak. All you have to do is break your draft down into simple parts, so you can effectively execute the work left to be done in manageable chunks.

simple

When you’re drafting with a plan (and you have a plan, right?) or rewriting with plan (because you revamp your plan for your story before you rewrite, right?), you give yourself a chance to conquer the overwhelming, sinking feeling that you can’t succeed at something as complex as creating a novel. You allow yourself to focus on one piece of the story at a time, until the whole manuscript finally begins to take shape. But what is your re-writing plan???

I’ll get more specific about my re-writing approach in my twice-weekly July How You Write blog updates. But for now, accept for the sake of argument that writing is a process (while creativity and voice and the compulsion to share story with the world through the written word is a gift, bless you heart…). And as part of that process, re-writing can be learned and executed and mastered by anyone determined get better at her/his craft.

To help simplify things today as we dip our toe into re-writing…

I encourage every new student and client to do what I do with a freshly drafted first pass at a story–focus on the beginning, middle, and end of your characters’ journeys, as you deconstruct what you’ve achieved with your novel. Before you rewrite the first word, you first have to understand (to “conquer”) what you’ve already written.

First up! I teach students and clients to pinpoint the emotional focus of a character at the inciting incident of a story,  at the midpoint, and at the black moment.

beginning middle end

Make a chart (easily done in Word or Excel or freehand on a notepad). A simple one, with a row for your protagonist, your antagonist and perhaps one significant secondary character. Three columns: Beginning, Middle, End.

BME Table

Then read through those three key turning points in your story draft (inciting incident, midpoint and black moment) and see if you can define the state of each character’s internal journey. Jot down only a sentence or two for each turning point and each character. You should be able to summarize very specifically how a character is growing or wanting to change at each critical juncture. Once you’re done, take a look…

Is each character’s emotional state dynamic and arcing throughout the story?

  • Is the character needing/aware of/wanting/determined to have progressively more vital things to her/him as she/he progresses through the story?
  • Or is she/he an emotional flat-line, driving forward in the same emotional state, to achieve the same “vision” of victory/success, at each turning point?
  • If the later is true (or if you find gaps in your chart because you can’t determine a particular character’s emotional focus in one of these key places in your story), take a closer look at what’s happening between the B-M-E turning points.
  • What can you learn from your draft about the new work needing to be done for your character’s journey? Why is it that your character isn’t yet coming fully to life for the reader?
  • Take tons of notes at this point, but DO NOT BEGIN RE-WRITING…

So, yeah, you got me ;o)

This isn’t actually a lesson about how to re-write.

What we’re talking about today is how to deconstruct and figure out WHAT needs to be rewritten for ONE story element–character. I call it my B-M-E Exercise. There are other parts of the story you’ll need to analyze and make decisions about before you tackle your next draft. But I encourage my students and clients to begin with character.

Why character first?

Because character is story. And it’s my experience with the 27 novels I’ve rewritten and stream of authors I’ve taught and mentored and coached and edited for, that no matter how good your writing or how exciting your external plot…if the reader can’t connect with your characters emotionally and root for your protagonist’s victory because her/his story is so real, it’s impossible not to, then the story will suffer and be so much less than it could be.

Don’t let that happen with your draft. No matter how much experience you have, the B-M-E approach to deconstructing character character arc is a good first-step to take once a draft is done. I do it with every novel I write.

I could get more specific (and I will in later posts), and talk terms like goal, motivation and conflict. But for this first step, do yourself a favor and map out only emotions. Where your character’s head is, how that’s affecting the way she/he sees his world, and how a character’s emotional journey shifts and change (or currently doesn’t) over the course of your story. This is a goldmine of information you likely couldn’t have had when you first began to draft, no matter how much planning you did. These are the amazing things we discover as we draft…and now it’s time to harness that rich goodness and see where it will take you creatively as you re-write forward!

Simple, right?

nope

I’ll delve deeper into the mechanics of using the B-M-E chart next post, giving examples. I also encourage a unique approach to filling the chart out. That’s right. I don’t want you reading the book through in sequence… I’m going to ask you to move around and focus on out-of-sequence chunks as you “investigate” your character’s emotional arc. But that’s for my next post this week.

Try it for yourself first, so you have a better feel for the crux of the process. Make your chart, grab a hard copy of your book (yes, PLEASE consider working with a printout of your draft as you deconstruct for re-writing), and dive back into what you’ve done, empowered to conquer your process and put what you innately know about story to work for you!

Because…that’s how YOU write ;o)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses to “How You Re-Write 1: Revise with the B-M-E Chart”

  1. Thank you for starting your “How to Re-write” blog. It came at the perfect time since I’m currently in the middle of revisions on a w.i.p. I plan on taking to the WDW TN Workshop on the 23rd to pitch. I do have a question. My main character has another character inside of her, a demon. The demon does have a name, does make appearances, and even takes her place for a good third of the novel. They have to learn to work together (that is the character growth). My question is should I put the demon in the secondary character spot on the chart?

  2. Hey Violet!

    Best of luck with our new novel ;o) Not knowing any more than I do about your story, I’d say the demon would be a separate character from the protagonist. Whether or not this needs to be a POV (point-of-view) character would be a story decision–what best serves the needs of the story and protagonist’s arc. If “they” have a common foe thwarting them at every turn and driving them and the story to the black moment, most likely that would be your antagonist.

    Give it a try! Then going forward, as you work through the rest of the rewriting lessons I’ll introduce, see if some of these additional deconstruction and analysis techniques help you better understand the demon’s current role in the story (and hopefully ways to enhance/improve your reader’s experience of that arc).

    Hope that helps!

    Anna

Leave a Reply