Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Big Edits, Part 2

By big edits, I mean those things that are not as easy to fix as typos, grammar, punctuation, and sparse or overwritten descriptions. We’ve already talked about some common big edits that may need to be done to the beginning of your book. Let’s talk about the rest of the book now.

Don’t rush your scenes. As the writer, you know where the book is going and you want to get to the “good” parts. If you race to get there, though, you’ll give your readers whiplash. Scenes can be snappy and they can also be informative and luxurious. Just don’t write fast scenes one right after the other until your reader is lost in time and space without an anchor. (Or lots of long, slow scenes that drag down the pace of the book.)

Speaking of pace, analyze the pacing in your work. Are there ups and downs? Not just the big ups and downs like on a huge roller coaster, but the smaller hills and valleys. Think symphony rather than roller coaster. It can seem to start slowly, but quickly a trumpet blast hooks you, makes you sit up straight. Then a lull followed by the rising of violins. Your heart rate picks up. Just when you catch your breath, the tempo quickens and you close your eyes, listening to the clarinets…until cymbals clash. The pace grows faster, faster, the tubas pound ominously, then sudden silence for three seconds, and an oboe cries until it blends in with a flute and piano duet. Whatever symphony you’re playing with your plot, listen to the sound. If you can’t hear the pace, then plot it out on paper and see what you’ve done.

Avoid wallowing in your words. Let us hear your characters. To do that, give us more fascinating dialogue and less narrative. Dialogue tells us a great deal about the characters. It shows their inner thoughts, their personalities, their backgrounds, their interaction with others, their ethics, their beliefs…it shows them. There has to be narrative, but too much begins to tell more about the writer than about the plot or characters. Do you need 150 words to describe Sally’s favorite childhood tree? Challenge yourself to do it in twenty. Do you need a full page to set up the awkward meeting between John and Lucia? Can you get that across in their conversation, their words, their physical reactions to each other? Can you convert narrative to dialogue or action to increase its immediacy and to involve the reader directly in the story?

In Part 3, we talk more about the plot.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that goes out to subscribers around the globe. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.

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  1. More great tips. Thanks. Slogging through my womens fic ms now. Ug.

  2. Can there be not enough narrative?

    I find myself chopping up big blocks of dialogue into the lovely more concise sentences, and adding a bit of the narrative in where before it was just all dialogue.

    I am looking forward to the plot one :D

  3. Hi Angie.

    Don't slog! Take breaks when you start slogging. Do something fun, dance around your office or take a nap.

  4. Oh yes, Meg, there can be not enough narrative. Dialogue that goes on forever can lose the reader. And if you put in excessive tags to try to lead your reader through the long stretches of dialogue, the reader will be pulled out of the conversation too much. Use a few tags, add some action, put in, as you say, a bit of narrative.

  5. Love your phrase "wallow in words." It's so easy to become to become intoxicated by the sound of our own prose and lose touch with our characters and their stories.

    Any more insights as to how to avoid that temptation?

  6. You want to have active scenes throughout your book, but you have to have narrative, as well. Narrative "tells" but just as important, narrative varies the rhythm of your work. We can sometimes get caught up in our telling, though, almost hypnotized by our great writing. If you analyze the flow of your book and see that you're too weighted down in narrative, then look to see what you can convert to active scenes. Are you describing how a character feels -- show us firsthand. Are you describing the scenery -- let the character feel the scene or describe it to another character. Move the impersonal into the personal.

  7. Good article. I especially loved the symphonic metaphor with regard to pacing.

  8. Marvin, my guess is you would be good at applying that idea to your books. You seem to have music in your heart.

  9. Pacing is a good consideration. It's sometimes overlooked by authors, even when they've got everything else is right.

    Morgan Mandel


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