This post originally went live on BRP on January 14, 2010. It followed a part one. Having just finished a first major editing on a manuscript that challenged me on so many levels, I felt the need to bring this piece back for a look-see. I hope you enjoy it and get something from it.
In addition to examining the characters in your story to trim unnecessary material, you can also look at your scene development.
As I edited the VBB, I saw a major need for the client to edit scenes. Back in 2008, I wrote a short piece titled “Developing Scenes” that’s worth a check out. It’s important to remember that scenes don’t have to start at the beginning. Now, what does this mean? Let’s say you wanted to write a scene in which your main character’s conflict was revealed. You plan to do this by having the conflict blurted out during an argument between the main character and her boyfriend. In your scene, you start with allowing us to see the main character driving home, then she walks into her apartment, then she checks her mail and phone messages, then she takes off her clothes and puts on something comfortable, and then after all of that the boyfriend comes home, and there’s a lot of conversation about nothing before we even get to the argument. This would be considered a very slow-reading scene. As a reader, I would be waiting impatiently for something to happen. You would be amazed, if you went back and read through your manuscript paying close attention to scene development, at how many words go into revealing nothing important about the story and characters.
With this issue, it’s important to ask yourself, “Where’s the best place to start a scene and end a scene?” You don’t want to start too early and slow the read, and you don’t want to drag a scene on.
In my piece “Developing Scenes,” I write, “Typically, we are ‘placed’ somewhere (setting). People are revealed to us (characters). Some idea, point, purpose, situation is presented to us (beginning). There is interaction amongst the characters (middle), and the scene concludes in a way that propels the story forward and makes us want to know what happens next (ending).” As you edit through your manuscript, you want to make sure that these elements are in your scenes and that each scene does what it needs to do to make your story sing, not lag.
To those writers who tend to write epics when a particular book doesn’t necessarily call to be epic-size, place this word on a Post-it near your computer: SCOPE.
I know there are a lot of pantsers out there, those who just sit and let fingers fly across keys until a story is done. However, to help limit scope, it might be a good idea to actually outline books before writing them. An outline can give you a sense of how big a book will be. If it looks like your book will hit the scale at 125k or more, then you can work to revise an outline instead of revising a whole novel. And as you do so, you can ask yourself what is the overall purpose of this story, what characters are absolutely necessary to tell this specific story, and what tension, development is necessary in order to tell that specific story.