Intro note: Sadly, this is Jordan’s last scheduled blog with Routines for Writers. What an informative month we’ve had picking her brain about how to improve our writing craft, particularly in the context of scenes! Thank you so much, Jordan! I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through your book, these blogs, and the emails we’ve sent back and forth. Be sure to stay in touch! Now here’s Jordan:
Ah, final edits. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? As if not only will we know the minute we’ve reached the end of our work-in-progress, but will have to do little more than correct a few typos and massage a few paragraphs. I wish it were so.
As an editor I see two common problems: The writer assumes she is done before she really is. Or, the writer can’t let go of the project and edits it to death. More commonly I see the former. We feel done because writing can be exhausting work—building all those people with complex lives and stories takes a lot of imagination and elbow grease. But revision is where the work really begins, I’m afraid.
Editing should be a process of several, if not many, drafts. So for me, the final edit stage for me is the last wave of many that have gone before it.
When you believe you are truly done with your manuscript—meaning you have a complete story, with solid characters, a beginning, middle and end, and a plot that makes sense, you can edit in waves:
· Identify vignettes. These are scenes that don’t contribute to your plot or character development, in which nothing new is revealed or learned. Just pretty little tangents and asides or character flashbacks. Cut these, or transform them into scenes.
· Scene:Summary ratio. Next, check your scene to narrative summary ratios. Is there still too much “telling” that could be modified into action and dialogue, or cut altogether? Have you taken too many omniscient liberties to “tell” large passages of descriptive info?
· Scene integrity: Look at the structure of each of your scenes. And I do mean “each.” Do they all begin and end in the right place? That is to say, do they launch in a way that compels the reader, and end in a way that keeps the reader hungry for more? Are they too short or too long?
· Scene types: Notice the kinds of scenes you’ve got. Do you have too many dialogue-heavy scenes? Too much intense action? Not enough? See if you can’t lend some variety, if so, by softening or tightening up the intensity and variety of scene types as needed.
· Character Shift: Has your character undergone a shift or change of some kind, learned something or become better by the end of your novel? If not, you’ve got work to do. Is his or her voice distinct and compelling—a stand-out character that will be unique and unforgettable?
And finally, at the very end of the larger edits, then you go through in smaller waves:
· Sentence variety. Not too many sentences of the same length.
· Repeating words, clichés. Cut redundancies. Scout out clichés.
· Dialogue tags/adverbs. Transform your adverbs into actions. Where people do and say things “angrily,” “hungrily,” and “desperately,” instead make sure their actions and words clearly convey that they are angry, hungry and desperate.
· Bulky, or prose-cumbersome sentences: Elide unnecessary words. Condense and pare out unnecessary metaphors, similes and descriptive words.
If you want a handy cheat-sheet, the last chapter of my book Make A Scene is devoted to assessing your scenes.
Jordan E. Rosenfeld is a fiction writer, freelance journalist and editor. She is the author of the books, Make A Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time (Writer’s Digest Books) and Write Free! Attracting the Creative Life with Rebecca Lawton (http://www.writefree.us/). Jordan is also a contributing editor & columnist to Writer’s Digest magazine. Her articles have also appeared in such publications as, The San Francisco Chronicle, The St. Petersburg Times, The Writer and more. Her book reviews are regularly featured on The California Report, a news-magazine produced by NPR-affiliate KQED radio.
Visit her blog: www.jordanrosenfeld.wordpress.com