Self-editing in Layers

The first time around the editing bush, most writers can’t correct everything that needs fixing in their draft . Editing in layers or phases makes sense. I like to start with the Big Picture, as we’ve discussed for a couple of posts. I don’t waste time making sentences pretty if I end up chucking the whole concept or section. At some point, though, it becomes necessary to go deeper into the writing itself.
Writing Tip for Today: I try to get writers to hold back from tinkering when they are drafting. In my opinion, drafting (creating) and editing (fixing) are like positive and negative particles–they tend to cancel each other out. You will revise, just not when you’re drafting. A good “Second Layer” edit might look for the following:
Every Scene Counts Although writers have more latitude in novels than in shorter work, every scene must still move the story closer to the goal. Storyboarding is a useful technique to help you see which scenes move and which repeat the same purpose or march in place. Those that do not force the story forward can be shortened, combined or cut. Using sticky notes or index cards, write a one-sentence summary of each scene. Arrange them in order. Stand back and appraise.

Ratio of scene to narrative If you’ve created a tense scene, then suddenly (as I did recently) step out of the scene with a paragraph of narrative, the reader is likely to say, “Hey! I don’t care about what you think, give me the rest of the scene!” Revise to place narrative in a more advantageous spot, such as after the main action is over–that’s when readers are more apt to tolerate a short break.

Throat-clearing and stage directions Take a look at each scene and how it begins. Do we take a while to get into the action? Are there passages with no movement? You may need to revise the scene to open closer to the main action. Other considerations:

  • If your scene contains only the narrator, you run the risk of writing a monologue or trapping the reader in your character’s head for too long.
  • Got phone calls? Rewrite the scene face-to-face. With phones, unless you employ that old TV technique of a split screen, you only see half the action .
  • Use interior thought scenes carefully.
  • How many scenes are set with characters sipping tea, coffee or beer around a table? Get those characters moving!

Next: Revising for flow

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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