First off, where have I been? I noticed my last post was in October. My apologies. I spent October and November in revision and took December off to focus on my primary job: SAHM (stay at home mom.) But a new year is here with brand new motivations.
Pre-published authors are keenly aware that we are not to submit our work to agents until we get it as good as we can. To perfectionists, that is a cruel task. So we have to learn to let go of ascertaining perfection on our own (if ever), establish a plan, and stick to it!
In brief – the steps that got me this far:
- Write the rough draft like a crazy person. Finish the darn thing and celebrate. Really celebrate.
- Take a month away from it and read a craft book.
- REVISE: see this blog on what you can do in the first revision.
- Rewrite – time to fix all those things you didn’t allow yourself to look back at during the frenzied rough draft.
- Get eyes on it. Yep. Be brave! Do you have a critique group? They are the perfect people to do this. They have willingly sacrificed hours of their time to read your writing and critique it because they know you will do the same for them.
- While your critique group has it start the next revision.
That’s what this post will focus on. My process, in general, is an inverted triangle: start broad and become more narrowed through the revision. Every writer has a process. This works for me, for now.
On the first revision I was focusing on story arc, plot, characterization, what chapters can go – big picture stuff. Now, I am getting more narrowed. I am breaking the chapters into scenes and sequels and I am looking for specific elements. And what I’m doing is not original. I have taken what I have read in craft books, learned at conferences, and researched online to synthesize my process.
This step of my process was largely taken from a blog that was summarizing a book. The blog: Writing the Perfect Scene (beckons all perfectionists!) The book: Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight Swain. (Admittedly, I have not read it yet. As a SAHM my writing time is very limited. But perhaps that will be the craft book I read after my next rough draft.) Refer to either or both of these for expanded information. I will hit the highlights.
Tools: 3 different colored highlighters, a fourth marker of a different color, a red pen, green pen, tablet with Index Card app (By the way, this is a revised method. My first was even more involved and I quickly realized I was working harder not smarter.)
Each chapter is compiled of scenes and sequels.
- a goal: the MC (main character) goal for just this little moment in time, which ultimately is somehow tied to the big goal/story arc – when I identify the goal I highlight it in blue.
- CONFLICT! – internal or external, obstacles stumbling blocks the MC is dealing with in the scene. (I uses yellow highlighter – like warning road signs)
- DISASTER!!!! – the thing that keeps the MC from reaching the goal (I like a pink highlighter for his one, it’s close to red. – I know, I am a very deep thinker!)
After the disaster the sequel begins:
- Reaction: an emotional response that follows the disaster, will probably include dialogue or internal thoughts. (back to blue highlighter)
- Dilemma: the MC is in a situation with no perfect solution that will allow him to reach his initial goal. The MC sorts out his options. (yep, yellow highlighter!)
- Decision: MC has weighed his options and chooses a path, therefore a new goal. (red again. though sometimes it is also blue for my next scene.)
Most of my chapters have between two or three scene/sequel cycles. Some had just one, the most was probably four. Keep in mind. my chapters run about 9 or 10 pages. So what I’m calling scenes may be what someone else calls a beat. I’m not going to get hung up on vocabulary. The important thing is that I am analyzing my text for the good stuff it needs to have. My book is also an action story, fast paced. Stories that are slower paced or focus more on building suspense or scene setting may have longer chapters or fewer scene/sequel cycles. With my target reader in mind, I need to keep the pace up!
The purposes for the other tools:
- Purple marker: noted flashbacks, internal monologue, and transitions (all of which were used SPARINGLY!)
- red pen, to do what red pens always do!
- green pen – to record MRUs – ooooh what’s that? I’ll get into that in my next blog.
- Index Card app: After I completed each chapter I recorded for each scene: the number of the scene, the chapter it belongs to, the act it was from, the headline, the goal, conflict, disaster, the number of words and MRUs (oh! there it is again!) and humor. And for each sequel I did the same thing, but recording the reaction, dilemma, and decision instead.
What good did it do?
I quickly realized when I was missing key components. Sometimes an entire sequel was missing. I have at least 5 scenes or sequels that need to be written – and one entire chapter. And the opposite is true too. I am able to see what isn’t a scene or sequel that is moving the story forward and can be discarded. Repetition, lack of scene setting, drifting from the plot, wordiness – it all stands out more. I noticed my habit is to often skip past a reaction by the MC to the disaster. And I’m sure there is more too. Thankfully, it’s all recorded on my index cards!
By the way, what it one thing you always include on your index card when you are analyzing your story?