Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making it sparkle

When I originally posted about the second draft, I mentioned four areas to keep an eye on as you did your read-through: Plot, Characters, Pacing, Theme/Symbolism. I originally thought I would need to do more in-depth posts on all those subjects. But I don't have much else to say about theme/symbolism and I found this excellent article on pacing here. Any thoughts I added to Myra Johnson's would be mere fluff.

So instead I'm going to move on to the third draft, to the draft I looooove. Because the story part is basically done. Now I'm just making it sparkle.

During the third draft, I hardly ever leave a sentence untouched. This is likely because my first drafts are so sloppy, but I really do tweak just about every line.

When I'm working on a scene in my first draft, I will sometimes close my eyes and imagine what's going on around my character. But not often. Especially if I already know what's going to happen in the scene; then I'm just plowing through the set up so I can get to the yummy dialogue stuff that I really like to write. Which means - for me - the most exciting scenes in my novel are usually in the worst shape.

I'm not saying my way is right or good, but it's usually not until the third draft that I close my eyes and try to picture the scene around my character. Um, confession: sometimes I don't even do much thinking about what my characters look like until the third draft. I have an idea of what my main character and her fella look like, and maybe a couple other key characters, but in general those details don't feel important to me until the sparkle draft.

So while you spent your second draft getting a feel for the "forest" (click here if that's confusing), now you're heading back to your trees. You are scrutinizing each tree - each scene - and asking yourself this question:

Would anything be affected if I removed this scene? If the answer is no you have two choices - cut it, or make it matter.

Donald Maass's advice is if your character is sitting around drinking tea, you can probably cut it. Or - if there's good stuff in there - make a more interesting choice for what your character could be doing. One of my early manuscripts opens with the main character and her best friend sitting in Starbucks for, like, 10 pages. Boring. The conflict is great, but if I ever return to that manuscript, they are definitely going to need to move around.

If you're willing to share, I'd love to hear some interesting activities you've had your characters engaged in while carrying on a conversation. Some "Starbucks alternatives," if you will.

Have a great Wednesday everyone!


  1. This isn't from my book, but rather from Christine Lindsay's SHADOWED IN SILK. One of her final scenes is the hero reflecting. Inner dialogue. Huge potential to be booooooring, right? But she puts it in the middle of a battle. So you hear the hero thinking about the heroine . . . then peeking out of a foxhole. Thinking about heroine . . . loading his weapon. Thinking about going back to her . . . charging across the battlefield. It's totally awesome, and manages to pack a thoughtful scene with action, and soften what could be gruesome battle stuff with the reflection of a loving heart. It's really the best example I can think of for Stephanie's point here.

  2. Farmers' Markets are always much more interesting than Starbucks. Especially if your main character has to keep an eye on her little brother! That was one successful scene :)

    One "Starbucks" type place I had to watch out for in my first draft was the car, alone or with someone else. It's ok a few times, was overkill in my first draft.

    Let's see...Some more examples from my writing:
    Learn to make an apple pie at your friend's house while chatting about her recent marriage!
    Help your little sisters sew dresses.
    Sketch a bird in the park while waiting for a friend and fuming about a recent argument.
    Draw caricatures of people you just can't figure out.

    Wow, I actually got pretty creative there! Making my character an artist really helped because it gave her something to do while she thought about things or waited for people.

    I can't wait to see everyone else's suggestions!

  3. Roseanna, that would be a very interesting balance to strike. Great example!

    Jordan, I especially like that Farmers' Market idea. Such a variety of people and smells and textures. And that's an excellent point, about giving your character something to do while she waited/thought.

  4. One of the best opening chapters there is begins with a conversation between a well-to-do brat and her half-brother. Throughout the whole conversation, she is throwing things at him and he is ducking. It made for a very amusing opening :D

  5. I really love your picture in this post, polka dots are a favorite of mine.
    I have to say I'm a little bummed though, one of the things im working on spends a lot of time with friends talking about their problems in a cupcake shop. I had the shop all planned out too, it's name wait for it- Polka Dots :) I told you I loved them.
    There were some deep conversations there but after reading this they probably need to go.
    If I wanted to keep Polka Dots I'd have to make some kindof action happen there, right?

  6. Maybe some of the friends can work at the cupcake shop...baking, decorating, etc. can add subtle action and interest - especially when things go wrong! Throw a younger sibling in sometime. Little sisters and brothers always add action, especially in small shops with delicate, potentially messy things like cupcakes!

  7. Thanks Jordan, great ideas! I was thinking about different action things and it reminded of a time my brother wanted to make my mom a coffee cake after she got home from a trip & he put a 1/4 cup of salt in it instead of a 1/4 tsp! Haha, I could work that one it.

  8. I agree with Jordan. There's definite potential for activity at Polka Dots :) And I love your story about your brother. Baking is a definite adventure, so there could be all kinds of action going on in there.

  9. I'm still on my first draft and I so get into it. Sometimes it's embarrassing when people walk into my bedroom while I'm writing because I will stand up and walk around my bedroom and plan out the next five paragraphs in my head before it ever goes on paper. I am probably very weird, but hey it works.


  10. In my story I'm having trouble with a court room scene. The reason the place is being sued seems weird, and I know nothing about court, and I have ALMOST no evidence to prove who's right and who's wrong. It's hard. :)

    I sent you my writing prompt!

    ♥Book blogger

  11. Ellyn, you described an interesting opening chapter. I'd like to read it! Is it from a novel of yours or another?

    Tonya, I love that story about your brother! How about a beginning baker substituting baking soda for baking powder in chocolate chip cookes (cough, not like, um, that's happened around here or anything).

    As has already been mentioned, my favorite Starbucks alternative is a good sword fight. :)

  12. Rachelle, that gave me such a good laugh! I can just imagine my high school girls dueling it out...