Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
Last Monday I talked about the first layer of edits, which I think should be reading through your whole book and determining what needs to be kept, changed, added, researched, developed, and so forth.
Sometimes when I'm doing that initial read-through, I'll decide to add a subplot or create a major plot thread. If I do, then I I follow the process I've detailed here. I've found it's best to go ahead and add it before I do the scene-by-scene edits. That way when I start editing original scenes, I'm able to weave in the new subplot or plot thread.
If all I've noticed so far, however, is just a scene or two that needs to be added, I'll go ahead and start my scene-by-scene editing and then add the scene when I get to that point in the story.
When I do my scene-by-scene edits, I start by reading the scene as a whole so I can evaluate the foundation. The first question I ask myself is:
Am I using the right POV in this chapter?
When trying to decide if it's the right POV character, you want to ask yourself "who has the most to lose in this scene?" Last week, as I was working on edits, I realized I had a scene from Paige's point of view that needed to be switched to Graham's. Paige was mourning the loss of her family business, so I initially thought we should see things from her point of view. But then I realized that Graham had more at stake in the scene, because Paige had already lost everything.
The next question I ask is:
Did I arrive late and leave early?
We talk a lot about starting books in the right place, but you should also be evaluating if you've started your scene in the right place.
For the scene that I'll show as an example, Paige has been having lunch with her parents after their family business imploded that morning. Her father has just told her that he's not going to fight to keep the company. I chose to start the scene right after he's said that to her for a few reasons:
- We don't need ten minutes of idle conversation before her father drops the bomb. Let's just get to it.
- In this situation, I didn't even feel like we needed the bomb. This is a gut thing, not a science. But for this book and this scene, I felt like the critical part was Paige's reaction, and that's where I wanted the focus to be.
- The publisher I'm targeting has strict rules about word count, so I'm trying to cut words wherever I can.
You also don't want to linger too long after you've achieved what you want to with a scene. Your reader gets a VIP party pass—they get treated to only the best parts. Bring them to the party late when stuff is already going on, and then get them out of there early before things wind down.
And then I have a few more questions I ask ... and I actually make myself write this stuff down.
I've found it pushes me past being lazy and makes me think about details besides what my characters are saying to each other. (In my first drafts, you would think that's all that matters to me.)
Here's a link to print out your own copy, if you'd like.
What do I want to accomplish in this scene?
When I wrote my first draft, I likely had no idea what I was wanting to achieve with the scene because I was still exploring this place. But now I've explored and picked the shape of my cake pan (see Monday's post if that's confusing) and I need to figure out why this scene matters.
What does the POV character want and why?
My goal and my character's goals rarely align. In each scene, it's very helpful to know what your character wants to happen and why they want that.
What's at stake in this scene?
What happens if they don't get what they want? What will they lose because of it? Or what do they think will be lost?
Have I provided context for my readers?
Have you ever been reading through one of your first drafts and halfway through a scene, a character pipes up ... and you didn't even remember he was in the room? Or did you imagine this conversation was taking place in a school hall only to realize they're at soccer practice?
Make sure in your scenes you're providing context for your readers. Who is there? Where are we? What details stand out to the character? When is this taking place? What's going on around them? What is my character doing? Why are they there?
Have I included at least three of the five senses?
My first drafts have almost zero sensory details. Now is a great time to work in what your character can taste, touch, see, smell, and hear.
When I'm done, my sheet looks like this:
But now that I've filled out my orderly little sheet, what do I do with it? How do I go about adding the details I just thought of?
The first thing is, I (likely) don't use all the details. I may have written down that there are butterflies about, but then find I have no place in the story where it's natural to add my butterflies. That's okay. It doesn't all make the cut, but I like having ideas to draw from.
I keep my list beside me, and then I go about editing like I normally might. I try to fit the context details as early as possible—particularly who's there and where we are. When I'm trying to figure out how I want to frame my dialogue, I might glance at my sheet to remember the details I had imagined.
If you're wanting to see samples of how the scene changes with this edit, I've posted my first draft and second draft of a scene from my manuscript.
That was a ton of information crammed into one post! Anything I need to clarify?
The Go Teen Writers ebook continues to be on sale while we continue our Editing in Layers series.
Also, our friend Alyson has a very fun book award nomination thing going on at her blog. Instead of nominating favorite books as a whole, you can nominate your favorite plot twists, antagonists, character development, etc. from your favorite books of 2013-14. If you're interested in nominating your favorites, you can do so here.