Sunday, August 2, 2009

Revising/Editing 301, going beyond grammar

Over the passed fifteen years, I have read many lovely, lyrical, funny, pages for critique that I have had to ultimately ask the writer..."As lovely as this is--how does it advance the plot?" The answer is, it does not and all those pages must be cut. Pages like this are found not only in the beginning of the book but sometimes in chapter 10, or chapter 5 or chapter 15.

Revising and polishing is more than spell check and grammar check. It is more than taking out repetitive words and passive verbs. These are the easy things-the things 90 percent of critique groups find. In other words, revising/editing 101.

Revising/editing 201 is when you ask questions like--in Los Angeles is it called Forensics Services or Crime Scene Investigation; and questions like--is that physically possible to do that? You look at each scene for point of view and adding textual details like smell, touch, sound and taste.

The harder stuff--revising/editing 301--comes from experience- lots of experience and a basic understanding of plot and tension. When editing 301 you have to be willing to be ruthless with your baby. To look at your work with a critical eye and to cut, cut, cut- rewrite and rearrange. (Hint: I put the cuts in a separate file. It helps the sting to know that all those wonderful words- all that hard work is not "lost forever." But the truth is I rarely, rarely ever use what I cut...which means I did my job when I edited my work.)

Lets start:

1) Each chapter must open with a hook. Each chapter should end with a hook. Hint: start in the middle of something. End in the middle of something. Beware of putting in action for action's sake. Make each action count. (Think about television shows...have you noticed how often characters dialog while walking? It's a visual cheat that creates the feeling of action and tension while imparting important information.)
2)Look carefully at each scene- is your character getting dressed? cut. Showering? cut. Making dinner? cut. Driving a car from here to there? cut. What?! Why?? You ask? Because the key to good pacing and page turning drama is asking yourself..."does this advance the plot?" Does this help the reader fall asleep or keep the reader up all night? (Again-pay attention to your favorite authors or TV shows or movies...if they are in the car-is there a chase scene? Does it have purpose? A shower scene... does it have purpose? Immediate action? Sex?)
3) Think tension in each scene. There are many different kinds of tension- sexual, internal, external...all create conflict. Conflict keeps the reader turning pages...makes them burn dinner...stay up all night...think about the characters for days afterwards. And best of all-makes the reader say-"When is your next book coming out?"

But--you say, what about my word count? Surprisingly, I have found that once the dead wood is cut it is easy to see missing bits in the scene or chapter and words flow. I usually end up with more not less when I do deep edits.
What about downtime? Transition? Yes, it's true that you need dips in tension and action to give the reader time to breathe to have the moment of relaxation before the next scare-think horror movie...the relaxing scene in the boat at the end...right before a hand reaches out and grabs the heroine. Keep these scenes short- give them purpose-if the protagonist is sleeping, show that they sleep with their windows closed and a gun on the nightstand. If they are driving, have them see something, or discover something that advances the plot.

Editing 301- deep editing/revising is important. It can take your work from sparkle to diamond shine. In my opinion it is the most important kind of editing. Copy editors will catch grammar and factual details, but only you can advance the plot. Good luck!


Kathryn Magendie said...

Good post!

Marty said...

Oh the pain of your words... (((sigh)))

Nancy J. Parra said...

LOL- Marty, we all feel the pain...

Remember the old, "No pain, no gain." ;)

Morgan Mandel said...

Great advice, Nancy. It's so easy to be lazy and throw in extra stuff that doesn't matter to get the word count up, but it can make a dull book.

Morgan Mandel

Jessica said...

This is great stuff, esp. since I'm trying to lengthen a category into single title, but I don't want to just add words. I want the new scenes to deepen everything and still keep a fast pace.
I need to think about this more and make sure each scene, line, word is necessary (though I love the lyrical prose, lol)

Pamala Knight said...

Excellent post, Nancy. I've experienced that pain of cutting a scene near and dear to my heart because it just didn't advance the plot. *Wah* But truer words were never spoken because even once they're gone, it makes space for something to happen and something that needs to happen so that the hero/heroine can get closer to resolving their conflict.

You're my hero. Thanks for keeping us in the know.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks Morgan - so true how extra words can dull up a book.

Hi Jessica, it's shocking how easy it is to "see" where stuff can be added once the dull bits are gone. Good luck with your ST!

Hi Pamala, right back at ya with the hero stuff!! You are amazing!

Joelle said...

I love that you are so smart:)

Joelle Charbonneau

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I keep one of those cut scenes files, too, and can't remember every going back for a scene, but it's easier than making myself hit the delete button!