One of the most riveting scenes in film isn’t from Hitchcock and has nothing to do with mysterious identities à la Jason Bourne. The scene is from a movie based on a memoir about chess— Searching for Bobby Fischer by Fred Waitzkin.
Don’t Move Until You See It.
Those words are delivered by chess teacher Bruce Pandolfini, as both warning and guidance, to his student Josh Waitzkin. Pandolfini offers these words early in their collaboration. But at that time, Josh says he needs to move the pieces in order to find the moves that will allow him to win the game. To help his student see better, Pandolfini knocks all the chess pieces to the floor and Josh is forced to visualize on an empty board. He plays out sequences in his mind until he comes up with the winning move. It’s an electrifying moment for both teacher and student because each realizes a new understanding of the game has taken hold.
Don’t Move Until You See It becomes an anchor for Josh’s skillset as a player. And the advice takes on more significance during the climactic scene of the film as he competes for the national championship. I’ve always loved that scene and those words because as a survivor of depression, it reminds me that even in the darkest moments light lies within, waiting to burst forth. The only thing holding it back is me.
Ay, there’s the rub! Because, how can you see the solution or truth when you’re standing in the way? And that leads me to the second part of this riveting scene, where Josh sees the solution. The solution crystalizes so firmly inside him, he knows there’s no way for him to lose, and so he offers his competitor a draw.
You’ve lost. You just don’t know it— That place of blindness was exactly where I was before this blasted revision process started. But my gut kept nattering at me that the story wasn’t as strong as it could be. Which is why I contacted professional editor, Tiffany Yates Martin, who— like Bruce Pandolfini in Searching for Bobby Fischer— cleared the board, aka my manuscript of all words except one.
It is the core action of my heroine’s journey, only I couldn’t see it because of my obsession to dabble with the slight-of-hand tricks of craft that could make the story unique— which led me from one gotta have a gimmick to another until the story was nothing more than a long detour— and because sometimes a writer can’t see the clichéd forest for the damn trees.
Of course, once Tiffany highlighted it for me, it was impossible to avoid. Now forgiveness, in one form or another, resonates in every scene. Even when I’m not conscious of writing about it, the act of forgiveness seeps onto the page. At least, that’s how it feels to me, and perhaps by the end of my editing passes readers will feel the same. And that’s the other secret to writing that has been revealed to me during this revision process— every scene needs to be anchored to the core action of the heroine’s journey.
I can’t believe it’s taken me so long for that simple nugget of craft to embed itself inside me. But that just goes to show how every writer, like every manuscript, is a work-in-progress. And that dear friends, readers and voyeurs is the reason I show up at my desk day after day— because the process of transformation is what makes life riveting.