With only one new submission from my critique group I was able to focus on finishing the full novel critique for a friend. I took some time, and 3k words, to talk about ways to improve the story. Many of these suggestions can be applied to any novel, so I thought I would share them with the rest of the world in a three post series about editing. Without further ado: Editing Scenes.
Make sure scenes are scenes. A scene occurs in one time, place, and point of view. The most common issue I see is specifying that someone is traveling, and then a sudden jump to the destination without a scene break. If two characters get into a car and talk while driving that would be one scene. If the place the scene started at changes due to actions taken by the characters and directly seen by the reader it stays as one scene. If the actions aren’t seen by the reader then there should be a scene break.
There are books that break these rules. The most referenced is Dune, which jumps to a different view point every paragraph or so. It's terribly hard to do correctly, so give it deep consideration before attempting.
Starting scenes. How far away is the first action or piece of dialogue from the beginning of the scene? Particularly when editing pieces written during National Novel Writing Month I'll find summaries starting every scene. It's what I need to do before writing in rapid sprints, but it should not make it into the final draft. It’s best to delete the summary and go straight into the scene whenever possible. In some scenes there might be a summary of time passed, but the next action/dialogue is new material. For each instance I'll consider whether the information is needed. If it is I'll ask whether it can be integrated into the next action, dialogue, or thought and if it can do that instead.
Scene endings. In late and out early is a good rule, though harder to implement than might be expected. There is no need for characters to say goodbye or cover other pleasantries. Once the plot and character information or action is complete cut out, like a movie. Ending the scenes with good sentences will help make the book feel more polished. I don’t have any hints or tools in this regard, ask beta readers to keep an eye out for them and take note of a good ending while reading. It's a skill that will develop with time.
With only one new submission from my critique group I was able to focus on finishing the full novel critique for a friend. I took some time, and 3k words, to talk about ways to improve the story. Many of these suggestions can be applied to any novel, so I thought I would share them with the rest of the world in a three post series about editing. Without further ado: Editing Plot.
Strong plot comes from having the reader know what each character wants and feels. The anticipation of two characters taking actions towards opposing goals lets the reader believe there will be future conflict, and that creates tension. This can also happen inside of the character, by having a character want one thing, but feel something else. Eventually the character will need to decide between the feeling and the want, and the reader will eat that up.
Applying these to Harry Potter:
The more of these kinds of conflict the better. When someone confesses to someone (whether that confession is love or sin) the tension will be significantly higher if there is a previous scene where the character goes over what they want, what they feel, and what they're scared of. In the case of romance they want to continue to have a good relationship with someone, but they feel like they could go to the next step, and if they act on the feeling then they can get what they really want; a romantic relationship.
One mark of a well paced story is the natural division and placement of action and reaction chapters. The reaction chapters are the best places to add more about the wants and feelings of the characters, particularly as the characters change throughout the book. While it might not naturally seem it, these chapters can really increase the tension.
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