In graphics, rendering means putting the image on screen, or in processing terms it means taking all the elements of a scene and translating them into visual output which ends up on your screen.
With my full-fledged process for storytelling in mid-stride, I’ve begun to see prose writing as similar to rendering. What does that mean?
It means I work out all my story elements, decide what happens in a scene, and how that affects other scenes. I set the pieces up, and I write a short treatment for that scene, which in rendering terms would be something like a ‘preview’ — not the finished render, but a rough snapshot of what the final scene might look like.
Imagine for a moment, someone trying to film a scene in a movie and suddenly someone decides the location has changed, or instead of Sally slapping Bob, she kisses him. You might have to completely redo the scene. Each time an element of the story changes, the filmmakers have to go back and re-shoot the scene.
Any time you change fundamental elements of your story, you end up having to rewrite that part of your story. The idea here is, get it right the first time. Do a first pass treatment style, as a present-tense basic narration of events.
“Sally goes to the barn and milks the cow, and then she comes back to the cottage and churns butter.”
Well ok you caught me, milking the cow and churning butter are probably two separate scenes. Let’s say in the cow-milking scene, Bob shows up while Sally is milking the cow. Bob and Sally discuss the qualities of milk, but in talking about the cow’s milk it soon becomes clear that Bob wants Sally’s milk more than anything else, if you get my drift. Perhaps this sleazy attempt at seducing Sally causes Sally to slap Bob – with a dirty milking hand no less. So there it is — we have a scene.
If you’re happy with the series of events for that scene, then you can go off and write the prose, confident the story will be as you imagined it. You are free to have your characters snipe each other with witty one-liners and describe the lush summer morning as you see fit.
Writing scene treatments keeps things focused. It is more concerned with the basic progression of beats in your story and conveying the bare essentials rather than the wandering word-count-filling nature of writing prose. Scenes are the basic unit of storytelling, and from a storytelling perspective more important than word or page counts.
Cut down or eliminate complete rewrites by saving your prose for last. At that point, prose becomes a matter of rendering — you can choose the right words all day long if you like, it doesn’t change what happens in the scene.
Separate your plot from your prose, with the concept of ‘rendering.’
P.S. As a bonus it’s easier to focus on writing good prose when your mind isn’t worried about the characters, plot or twenty other things. Wouldn’t it be nice if when you wrote your prose, the only thing you had in mind was writing well?