Friday, December 11, 2009

The Revision Game, Part two--3rd drafts: Scene by Scene

Continuing on with our revision topic . . .

Now that the second draft is complete, I know that the manuscript tells a full story, I haven't dropped any plot lines, there are (hopefully) no huge logic flaws, my characters progress naturally, and the plot arc is in place. The big picture looks pretty good--just don't look too close because I haven't focused on the actual writing yet. The book is not ready to be seen by anyone but me, and there is a lot of work to be done before it can be taken to critique.

More than likely, at this stage, the dialogue meanders at times, there are a couple backstory dumps that need to be spread out, there is either too much or too little description, and the action doesn't quite work all the time. I know the story as a whole works, so now to break it down and focus on individual scenes.

I know some writers who break this stage down further and make one sweep (draft) just for dialogue, or just focused on making sure there are no large clumps of backstory clogging up the story. Then each subsequent draft they focus on a different element. My suggestion is to do whatever works best for you. If you open the file and are looking at the scene and you get overwhelmed trying to fix it, break the process down to just one or two elements per draft. For me, I work well looking at one scene as a whole at a time. If you find you spend an entire week working on just a couple paragraphs, stop. You'll actually save yourself time going through it multiple times than getting stuck in the first chapter for months. (**Note: All my suggestions are just my own experience and opinions and may not work for everyone. Every writer you ask with will have a different process and opinion.)

Some tricks that can help when focusing on scenes:
-Read the dialogue out loud--just the dialogue; skip everything in between. You'll be able to hear issues you might not notice with action and narrative breaking it up. Dialogue that doesn't really say anything, monologues, and characters answering questions that aren't asked are some issues to listen for.
-When looking at action scenes, pay close attention to cause and effect. That means, don't have your character react to things before they happen. Sounds like a no brainer, but it is actually a very common mistake I catch in my own drafts, see in critique, and read in contest entries. Clauses and the word 'as' are often the culprit, but sometimes entire sentences are out of order.
-Look for your descriptions. Do you ramble on for paragraphs describing everything? Or are your characters featureless, naked, and wandering around empty space? If you supply the reader with two or three key details, they will latch on to those and typically fill in their mental picture. Remember to reinforce them once in a while and to firmly root your reader near the beginning of the scene as to the location of the action.
-Backstory is a tricky one. I've heard people say not to include any backstory in the first three chapters--that doesn't mean make chapter four all backstory. The best idea is to weave it in as seamlessly as possibly when needed for the reader to understand what is happening. The best analogy I've ever head (and sorry, I don't remember who said it) is to imagine the entire backstory written on a plane of glass. Then break the glass so it shatters into tiny slivers, each with just small bits of backstory. Slid those tiny slivers into your story.

Once you've edited every scene, you've completed your third draft. You now have a complete story filled with good dialogue, action, and nice, tight scenes. At this point, you can probably send the story out for critique and the feedback you receive will be helpful and not stuff you knew you needed to fix anyway. But, you're not quite done revising yet.

Stop back Monday for part three (4th drafts: Micro Edits).

Have a great weekend!


Demon Hunter said...

Good stuff. Keep it coming. :-D

Anonymous said...

i agree with demon hunter...very helpful!

Anonymous said...

Great advise.

I was thinking of sending chapters out for critiques as I revised them.

You think this is a bad idea?

Kalayna Price said...

Thanks everyone!

Cher, sending out pages as they are revised depends on you and your group. Like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages.

The plus side: Sending pages out as you go means if your critique group finds a huge logic flaw that will have a spiral effect on the book, you can go ahead and fix it as you revise.

The minus side: it is easy to get sucked into 'the never ending revision'. You finish chapter one, send it out, and it comes back marked up. So you fix it, send it back out, and again it comes back covered in red ink. Rinse and repeat. It's sort of an "is it perfect now" mentality. Also, on the side of being the critiquer, reading chapter one ten times without ever getting chapter two sucks.

I've done it both ways. Currently, due to time constraints, I usually have to send out chapters as they are ready. My critique partners tell me any big issues that need to be addressed in an email and attach the line edits. I address the big issues as I go. I don't open the line edits until the revision is done and I'm ready for micro edits.

Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Yes that helps. Thanks.