Monday, October 7, 2013

Some Questions to Ask Yourself During Revisions

I didn't get around to writing a post last week because (1) I was sick and spent all of my energy thinking about how wonderful antibiotics and chicken noodle soup are, and (2) I was sad that Breaking Bad ended. Aside from taking off a few days to recuperate from the germ invasion in my respiratory system, I've been revising my current novel furiously.

I find it much easier to revise a short story than a novel. There's one main plot line, one major turning point for the main character, and so it's easy to hold it all in my head and get edits done within a week or less. When it comes to a novel, however, I spend quite some time writing it in the first place. Then I set it aside to gain some distance so I can look at it more objectively, and then it takes a chunk of time to go through revisions. With all that time passing (and given the swiss-cheese nature of my memory), I have to be really organized during revisions.

During my first pass-through, my main concern is whether or not each scene is pulling its weight. does it advance the story and contribute to world building or characterization or some other detail? So I have a series of questions for each scene to make sure it belongs and is earning its paycheck.

What does the point of view (POV) character want? The more specific I can answer that question, the stronger the scene will be. So if my answer is that the POV character wants to be rich, that's not such a great answer. But if I can say that the POV character has always dreamed of buying a winning lottery ticket and has a few dollars to spare to head down to the local Gas-n-Grab for Power Ball tickets, than that sounds a little more intriguing.

My next question is, who or what stands in the POV character's way, and what do they want? Don't be afraid to make things super difficult for your POV character. Throw something (or someone) powerful in her way. Maybe a couple of robbers are in the Gas-n-Grab and she finds herself in the middle of a robbery with her hard-earned extra bucks stolen. No lotto ticket tonight.

Then I usually go through a few check points. What is the setting/world building details? What's the time frame? What surprises are there for the reader, and is a surprise necessary for this scene? What is the turn in the POV character's situation? And what is the ending hook that will keep the reader going?

If you find it difficult to answer these questions, then maybe the scene needs some work. Maybe the POV character doesn't have a strong goal, or maybe there isn't anything standing in her way. Maybe the setting needs some beefing up, or maybe the scene ends with a fizzle rather than a bang.

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