To Love is to Revise
by Tracy Vicory-Rosenquest, Shorewood High School
Love revision, Darrah Cloud instructed, because you’ll be doing it over and over and over again for the rest of your life. As an accomplished playwright and my mentor, I trust her, so like a marriage vow, I promise: to love and cherish Revision, for better and for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.
Now how do you inspire ninety high school students to love revision in the face of video games, history projects, soccer practice, text messages, Facebook and so many other distractions? How do we, as writers, honor revision when there is so much else to get done? After I read and read and read the first drafts of my students’ ten-minute plays from Shorewood High School, I found a common missing piece – the creation of subtext. It’s the fertile soil underneath the written word. It’s the real communication that goes without being said or written. Subtext is the heart of the words we write, that beating pulse below the skin that brings life to our characters and stories. So then, let it bring life to our revision. To support me in creating a lesson for my students in subtext, I turned to Garrison Keillor, a man known for his Minnesotan stories and radio plays. I recalled a brilliant episode of Guy Noir from A Prairie Home Companion on Dec 3, 2011, in which Guy Noir has an entire conversation with another woman but they only communicate with one or two words at a time. Click here to read or hear this Guy Noir episode. So much can be said in very few words. I played this segment of the radio play for my students and asked them to choose 2 characters from their current play. One character must have something important to tell or ask of the other. I asked them to write this as a scene with as few words of dialogue as possible. The results of this in-class writing exercise showed up all over students’ plays upon reading their final draft. Revision success.
Here’s one of my favorite examples from Dustin’s play Magic Ties and Lottery Tickets. In this excerpt, Brad has just discovered that his magic tie is also capable of murder.Brad: BARB! Barb: What? Brad: Tie! Barb: Huh? Brad: Joe! Barb: Him? Brad: Yes! Barb: And? Brad: Dead! Barb: Dead? Brad: Dead!!! Barb: Dead. Brad: Dead. Barb: Oh My! Brad: TIE! Barb: What! Brad: Where? Barb: Why? Brad: Killer? Barb: What? Brad: Joe! Barb: The tie? Brad: Yes!
The shock, threat and urgency of the situation are clear with few words and punctuation. The greater implications are in the subtext. Once again, revision triumphs. I feel like I win an award every time I read another draft that student has taken the time to revise. The idea that a person is willing read over something he/she wrote and say, “you know what, here’s what I’m going to do to develop my writing.” In my world, this is an act of love.