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Next up: breaking down your story into bite size pieces. I have to be careful not to overload my creative little mind, so at this stage, I’m still focused on the macro while examining chapters. Here are five steps I find handy:
1) I work off a printed copy of the story, so any changes I make at this point aren’t permanent. This is important. It gives me freedom to read with a critical eye. Later, when I’m ready to make changes to my digital version, I make a copy of THAT document (again, freeing myself from the worry that I’ll delete something important).
2) Next, looking at chapters from a macro lens, I ask myself the hard questions.
Does the chapter have a reason to exist? Is it fluff? Backstory? Does it drive the story forward or hold it back? What part of each chapter works, what doesn’t?
Once I’ve identified weak chapters, I mark them with a sticky note and write something like “this chapter is going bye-bye, but keep the dialog on page so-and-so. It’s too awesome to cut.”
You may have heard the expression, “kill your darlings?” Yup, I’m pretty vicious at this point, but I wasn’t always this way. When I first started writing, I fell in love with every word. I truly couldn’t see one stinking thing to cut! Time, distance, exposure to new ideas and three novels later, I’ve become a heartless writer. I make bold decisions, deleting without fear (insert mwah-ha-ha).
3) Chapter order. Again, using that pulled-back macro filter, I look at where I’ve put turning point chapters (or even just scenes). Do they make sense where they fall? Or could I up the tension by rearranging the order? Yes, this is a pain. Cutting chapters, or moving them around destroys transitions. But at this point, you have to go back and re-work the entire novel anyways. Why not get the big stuff done first?
4) Chapter structure. As in, does it have one? I mentioned in my previous post that I use the Snowflake Method by Randy Ingermanson to plot. Randy (yes, we’re on a first-name basis) suggests each chapter is either a goal, conflict, set-back or reaction, dilemma, decision. Taking the printed copy, I scan the surviving chapters to see if it meets one of these criteria. It’s amazing how I’m able to see the weaknesses and the strengths more clearly using this method. Sometimes, all the chapter or scene needs is a bit of tweaking to tighten the tension.
5) I know some of you are itching to take out that red pen. So, it’s time. Keeping in mind I’m not looking at sentence structure yet, I mark passages that drag and need cutting. I’m reading as a reader – looking at the chapter critically and thinking Where am I skimming? Where have I lost the tension? Do I have enough dialog and action to move the story forward?
I’ll look at chapter again next week. For now, I hope these general tips and ideas are helpful. And please, as always, I’d love to hear your take on revision!
Looking for more writing tips? My author website can be found at www.suebahr.com.
Looking for a taste of my writing? I can be found on wattpad.com under “Vermont Writer.”
Thanks for visiting!