if it’s too difficult for grown-ups, write for children

Revisions and Mass Effect 2

mass_effect2So, a few days ago, I started playing Mass Effect 2 again. I’d played through it before a couple of months ago, and downloaded all the new content to play with my “main” Shepard, but something compelled me to start again, to try it just a little bit differently this time.

So instead of playing a pure biotic-powered human, getting through fights using mental powers and the occasional gun, this time I made an Inflitrator, or the game’s version of a sniper. I get through fights by finding some good cover, putting on my cloaking device so the bad guys can’t see me, and taking them out one by one. I have a couple of powers, but I hardly ever use them. This Shepard is a different kind of soldier.

But what makes Mass Effect different from a lot of other first person shooters, and the point I’m getting to in terms of your writing, is that I’m also playing her differently in terms of emotions and interaction with others (yes, despite the image at the top of the post, you can make a female Shepard as well as a male. There’s lots of different options for customizing the look of your character). My first character through the game stuck almost completely to the Paragon option — always doing what was right, what was caring, or might save lives.

This time? I’m letting myself go a little Renegade. The Renegade option lets you shoot first when the conversation gets a little boring, to bully and threaten when asking nicely and persuading just won’t work.

And as a participant in the story (see, I told you I’d get to the point!), like a writer, I get to see where different options and different paths take me and the other members of my squad to different places.

When you’re revising a novel, you have the option of tweaking your characters’ responses to situations. What happens if you let your MC cut class with the brooding guy she has a crush on, instead of watching him walk across the parking lot to his car while she’s stuck in Algebra? What if your protagonist gets behind the wheel of his car after one drink too many, instead of letting his best friend drive him home again? What if they kiss in front of her ex-boyfriend, instead of behind the deck by the pool?

Your manuscript is full of these moments that can reveal something new about your characters, if you let it. And hey — they don’t even need to stick around! When Mass Effect 3 comes out, the first character I want to bring through it will be my Paragon main, not my Renegade. So maybe you let your MC get a ticket for drunk driving, and cut that whole scene on the next draft. You’ve already thought through what could happen, and your manuscript will be the stronger for it.

How about it? Have you explored the could-have-beens in your draft? And did you find they stuck around, or just informed the next version?

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