For people just coming into the workshop. I know it is hard to find all the topics as the ones with discussion move to the top. So here are Lessons ONE to SIXTEEN, all in one place.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Revise with Fresh Eyes</h2>
Revision requires us to look at our draft with fresh eyes. It is best to set your draft aside to “rest” for several weeks before doing your first read through. I like to put my novel away for at least a month before looking at it again.
If you do not have a month, then give yourself a fresh view by changing the font type and size. If you wrote your draft on a computer, print it out and read it on paper, or if you wish to remain digital, read it on a tablet or if your eyes can take it, your phone.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Know Your Audience</h2>
Before you start reading for revision, you not only have to change how the draft looks, but you also have to change your mindset. Who do you imagine will be reading your novel? Create a profile of your ideal reader, and pretend to have that reader’s expectations as you reread your draft.
(Note: Creating this profile will also be helpful later on when you create marketing materials for your book.)
Questions to ask in creating your Ideal Reader profile. What are my ideal reader’s…
- Age range?
- Knowledge about my setting and types of characters?
- Favorite romance genre?
- Favorite romance authors?
- Preferred heat level?
- Overall purpose(s) in reading a romance such as yours? i.e do they want to be taken on an emotional up and down journey, be sexual excited, experience a satisfying love story, be frightened or horrified, explore a new place, learn about new and different people, enjoy being in a familiar place, travel back in time or into the future, etc.
Why do this? When drafting a story, we cannot help but write for ourselves. We invent characters we love, put them in situations we are excited to explore, and show them feeling the emotions flowing through us. But revising for publication means we need to please our future readers if we want them to devour our books.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Skip the Small Stuff</h2>
You have reformatted your draft and you have changed your mindset from author to reader. You are now ready for your first read through of your draft. Get yourself comfortable and sit down to read.
As you read do not stop to make changes or fix things. You are reading for flow. If you see a spelling mistake or punctuation error, put a checkmark in the margin if you working on paper, or if you are on a digital device, highlight it and quickly move on. It does not pay to make minor corrections, when in the end that whole scene or chapter may end up changed or discarded.
What you <u>do want to note</u> is anytime the story slows or gets confusing or seems missing something. Basically, if something stops your reading flow – mark it!
If I am working digitally, I like to use Track Changes and insert a quick comment like “Where did that gun come from?” or “Why doesn’t he kiss her already?” When I work on a paper draft (Reading for revision was a great thing to do on a long car trip – when we took them), I used sticky notes or just scribble in the margin.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Take a Breath and Reverse Outline</h2>
When you are done your first read through, you will have a good idea of where many of the plot and character weaknesses are. You may also feel depressed because your story isn’t perfect. That is normal. First drafts aren’t intended to be perfect—they are intended to be finished so you can revise them.
Whatever you do, don’t stop the revision process just because you found some problems.
Take a deep breath and encourage yourself by noting all the places that read well and you didn’t mark.
Examining the Plot
Having read through your draft you have probably a good idea of a million little things—things that you want to fix – a character description here, a gazillion overused words there. But before you get hung up on the decorative stuff, we need to examine the story framework or plot. Because no matter how beautifully written your story is, if any of the expected plot elements are missing you will lose your reader and never know why. The method I use to examine my plot is called reverse outlining.
Reverse outlining is the process of going through the draft scene by scene and writing down a summary of what happens in the scene. For example, in my most recent manuscript the opening scene is of a girl peeking at a forbidden nude sculpture while her irritated and embarrassed older sister tries to get her to stop.
Go through your whole draft writing scene summaries. I find it helps to give each scene a number and title. I remember words better than numbers i.e. the above scene is labeled “Forbidden Nude”. This also makes it easier to later move scenes around if needed. In addition, I label the date, time of day, the POV character, and location of the scene.
When you are done, not only will you have a better idea of the plot progression of your story, you will have a framework for the dreaded synopsis.
It usually takes me several hours to create my reverse outline. So take today to create yours, and tomorrow I will show you how to use it to analyze your plot.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Map Your Plot</h2>
Mapping your story is a way to make sure your plot is hitting all the genre requirements at the right point in the story and will help fix any plot weaknesses you found.
If you have a romance in your story, you need to hit certain events and emotional stages by certain pages in your draft. To do that, I use a personalized version of Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat template. I have attached a copy to this post. You can also buy her book which is excellent.
If you write pure romance, that is all you need to use. If you write suspense, mystery, sci-fi, fantasy, historical, or women’s fiction with romantic elements, then you need a second plot template that is designed for your genre. I have templates for you that I have posted on my website. joankoster.com/rapid-revise-handouts. The password is Revision
Now you have to do a little math. Calculate where each of the plot elements need to be in terms
Now you have to do a little math. Calculate where each of the plot elements need to be in terms of either your pages or word count. For example, the first plot point where the protagonist is forced to break out from their ordinary life is usually at the 25% mark. Find that location in your draft AND your reverse outline and mark it. Do the same for all the other plot elements. I usually draw a line or type in the plot point description in a different color.
With those spots marked, look for places where you have too many scenes or not enough. I usually find I need to cut sections in the first half of my novels and add ones to the second half.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Fix Plot Holes</h2>
SIX Fix Those Plot Holes
Based on your plot analysis, you may find you need to adjust your scenes so your plot points fall closer to the expected pages. Ask yourself:
- Is this scene essential to the plot or to show character development.
- Will it be easier and more efficient to remove this scene/section and add the essentials to another scene?
- Should I revise the entire scene/section or reorder it?
- Should I move this scene/section and what changes will I have to make in my draft if I do so?
- How will the change affect the timeline of events or some essential clue or foreshadowing?
- Which choice will help communicate my ideas or story better?
- Which choice takes the most time? Which takes the least?
- Which will give me the result I and my readers will be most happy with?
Now decide what change you will make. Do the most important changes first.
Work from the largest change to the smallest in the following order: Remove. Reorder. Add. Rewrite. Leave the beginning and conclusion alone for now. (We will look closely at these two sections later on.).
IMPORTANT: Do not polish these changed sections. You will do that to the manuscript as a whole after you have fixed the smaller parts of your written piece—the scenes, paragraphs, sentences, and words.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Map Your Scenes</h2>
Once you have the flow of the story action to your satisfaction, the next step is to examine each scene’s structure. This is another way to check the plotting, but more importantly it is the best way start marking out your character arcs.
Go through your reverse outline and identify for <u>every</u> character in the scene their
- Scene goal – what they aim to accomplish. Make sure the character goal is stated in words in the first two paragraphs of the scene. This is a helpful way to cue yourself and your reader to what will happen next
- Motivation – why they want or why they must accomplish that goal.
- Conflict – who or what is stopping them from reaching that goal.
- Dilemma – the problem, disappointment, catastrophe, or decision the point-of-view character is left with at the end of the scene. This should be clearly stated in the last three sentences in your chapter. Identifying this for each scene is essential if you want to keep your reading turning the pages.
<h2>Today’s Tip: Fix Your Scenes</h2>
We have now looked at our scenes from the point of view of plot and character goals. What you should now have left are the scenes that will build your story. In this lesson we will examine our scenes and make sure they flow.
Is it A Scene?
First of all, let’s make sure every scene is truly a separate scene. Hard scene breaks (ones that are marked by asterisks or a line or a space) usually occur at the following points.
- The setting changes completely.
- The time changes such as a jump forward to the next day or a flashback to childhood.
- The point-of-view character changes.
- A POV character’s changes from carrying out an action to reflection or vice versa.
- There is only one character scene goal.
The following are not complete scenes and do not require a scene break. These occur when:
- Characters move from one setting to another while interacting.
- Time changes as the characters interact.
- A short one or two sentence flashback to the past occurs.
- A character reflects or has an inner thought in the midst of an action.
Scene Essentials Checklist
- Each full scene needs a transition in so the reader knows the time, the place and which POV they are in.
- The POV character scene goal should be stated in words in the first or second paragraph.
- That scene goal is the focus of the entire scene.
- The scene is a unit of conflict. The character works toward their goal. Conflict ensues. Disaster or decision result.
- An action scene is one in which the conflict is external. A reflection scene is one in with the conflict is internal.
- If is an action scene, the character is physically pursuing their goal. Restate at the start what happened to make them do this. Keep inner thought and flashback brief—no more than a sentence. The scene will have lots of movement and or dialogue. The scene ends with a decision or a disaster
- If it is a reflective scene (sometimes called a sequel), the character is thinking about future or past actions. At the start, restate the failure or problem that set them thinking. The scene will be heavy with inner thought and emotion. Dialogue will be minimal. The character may be doing inconsequential or daily life activities. The setting will be one that enhances reflection. This is a place for a longer flashback. The scene ends with a decision or a retreat from a decision.
Do the scenes flow?
Between each scene there should be an inaudible THEREFORE i.e. what happens in this scene causes what happens in the next.
Note: If you are alternating POVs or subplots, that THEREFORE is tied to the scenes related to that POV or subplot.
Scene reads flat
- Make sure the POV character is the one with the greatest emotional investment in the scene goal. If not, change the POV character.
- Up the stakes or conflict
- Change the setting to one that makes the goal more difficult to reach or that is unexpected.
- Add a small annoyance, like a pesky bug or stone in the shoe, that bothers the character throughout the scene.
- Change the mood. Up the emotion. Make it more solemn or frightening, or more light-hearted or loving.
- Make sure that you are not repeating setting or action elements that are overused in your genre. Does the love scene have to be in the bedroom? Does the fight to the death have to be in a warehouse? Does the fairy have to in the forest?
Using these lists, go through your scenes and revise as needed.
<h1>NINE Map Character Movement</h1>
Nothing is worse than having characters doing something impossible in the world you have created for them, such as picking up something unreachable or going from lying in bed to suddenly driving down the freeway, leaving readers puzzled.
Create Scene Movement Maps
Read through each scene and map out the characters’ physical movements. I like to draw very rough floor plans for interior scenes and print out Google maps on which I sketch out where my characters are outside and when traveling. I then trace the paths my characters take in the scene. If you already did this during drafting (which I recommend) then a quick check is all that is needed.
Model Character Moves
Check the physical actions you describe your characters doing. Even if you did this as you drafted, double check each movement as written on the page by acting it out yourself. Or find a video of the action on YouTube.
Modeling character movements is especially important in love scenes. This may sound a bit odd, but consider using flexible dolls to make sure the people can actually bend and reach as described.
Describe the Movement Just Enough
If the movement or action is the focus of the scene, be sure to describe it fully. This especially true in fight scenes and love scenes.
If the movement is there just to get the character from one place to another, describe the movements just enough that the transition flows from one action to the next.
For example, If a character is moving from the bedroom to their car, not every single action needs to be detailed as in the following:
Mike’s car alarm went off. He tossed the wet towel on the floor, quickly walked through his bedroom door, turned right, and dashed down the stairs. There he crossed the family room, rushed through the kitchen, opened the screen door, leaped down the steps two at a time. From the yard, he raced to the driveway and his parked car.”
When you provide that much detail the story slows down and the movements become more important that the reason he is going to his car. Instead, give a broad visual, such as:
Mike’s car alarm went off. He tossed his wet towel on the floor, dashed down the stairs, and rushed through the screen door to his car.
Time is a part of the movement in a scene and between scenes. I like to create a timeline, sometimes down to the minute depending on what is happening. Ask:
- Do the characters have enough time to accomplish everything in the scene?
- Does the time of day flow naturally through the scene and across scenes?
- Are the seasons and the weather shown logically across scenes and the whole novel? Do the characters behavior and clothing match these?
- Have you considered whether events are occurring on weekdays or weekends, and how this might affect what happens in the scene?
<h2>Today’s Tip: Map Your Character’s Emotional State</h2>
By now you are probably set on the order of your scenes in terms of plot actions and character scene goal, motivation, conflict, and the POV character’s dilemma at the end as well as movement and time span. But are the scenes arranged in the best way to develop your characters emotional arc? For each scene ask:
- Why is the character doing this? How does it reflect and affect the character’s emotional state?
- What sense is the character making of the scene events and the other characters’ actions and emotions?
- What is at stake emotionally in this scene for each character?
- How does the character feel emotionally at the beginning of the scene, during the scene, and at the end?
- How does the character’s emotional state determine what they do and how they interact with the other characters?
- At the end of the scene is the character closer to or farther away from the goal? How do they feel about that?
- How have they changed on an emotional level? Do they have new feelings, understandings, or relationships to other characters?
- Does the emotional level grow logically over the scene, over the chapter and over the entire novel?
- Does the emotional level match the require plot points? For example, does the protagonist reach an emotional climax at the darkest moment?
- Optional: This is an extra task, but can be very helpful for getting a deeper understanding of your characters: What are characters who are not currently in the scene are doing and experiencing emotionally during the same time period of this scene?
If you can answer all these questions from what you have in your scenes, you can feel confident that you are on track with your characters’ emotional arcs. However, you may find spots that are flat or too melodramatic. Tomorrow we will look at fixes for emotional mismatches.
<h1>ELEVEN Fine-Tune Character Emotion</h1>
Editing for emotion is tricky. While a first draft is often mixed up and messy, it usually contains all the emotion you poured out on the page as you lived your characters’ lives. You do not want to edit that out. So, we want to use a tender hand as we revise emotion on the page.
The first thing to address is any spot where you actually named an emotion. Use the Find function and search out emotion words like angry, sad, happy, etc. I also search out the word feel. You may find a lot. That’s okay. When I am fast drafting, I purposely use these words knowing they will need revision.
These are considered “telling” words and distance the reader from our character’s inner state. To make our writing more intimate or “deepen the POV” we need to show the emotion.
Ways to do this:
- Physically: Show the character’s emotional state by how they act or move. An angry person might stab a knife into a cutting board or slam a car door.
- Viscerally: This refers to the character’s inner state. An angry character might experience blood pounding at his temple or a tightening in her stomach. The Emotion Thesaurus gives many examples for a wide range of emotions.
- Mentally: The character might think an emotional thought.
- Verbally: The character might say something that reflects their feelings.
Do you have to remove every single named emotion? No. A few used at emotional high points can be effective, especially as inner thought or spoken. What would we do without: “I hate you.” and “I love you.”
Order of Emotional Response:
In showing emotion, humans go through a series of involuntary stages or reactions. When revising your emotions, check that you used the following order, otherwise, it will not ring true to your reader. Note: You do not need to show every single one of these stages every time your character experiences an emotion. But do use them all in highly emotional situations such as when a character is being attacked or making love.
- Trigger happens. i.e. Sees a mouse.
- Person has an involuntary visceral reaction. i.e. Muscles tense. Heart pounds.
- Person makes an involuntary physical action. i.e. Jumps away.
- Person emits an involuntary oral response. i.e. Eeek!
- Person has inner thought. i.e. A mouse. What should I do?
- Person makes a decision: i.e. Run
- Person acts. i.e. Runs away.
Is there too much emotion? Over expression of emotion leads to melodrama. I find the wheel of emotion to be very helpful in judging the level of emotion I need to express in a scene. You can find many examples on the web. I like the simplicity of this one. ositivepsychology.com/emotion-wheel/
Not Enough Emotion?
If your character’s emotional state seems wishy-washy or unclear, here are some ways to clarify and enhance emotion without actually naming the emotion.
- Use strong verbs that convey emotion. For example, to show strong anger use smash instead of hit. For a great list of verbs, I recommend the The Actors Thesaurus.
- Add unique body movements and deeply felt visceral feelings. as found in the Emotion Thesaurus.
- Show the character’s emotional state on every page in multiple ways – through action, body language, dialogue, internal thought, and themed words in the setting description.
<h1>TWELVE Making the Setting Work for You</h1>
Setting is an essential element of story. It can set the mood, reveal character, provide mystery or clues, or even spur plot and character action. The important thing to remember is that it has to do at least one of these. Setting solely for the purpose of describing some place or object interesting to you is wasted writing and will either annoy the reader or cause them skip over it. I bet all of us have done that! (If you read all that technical detail in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, let me know and tell me why.).
Scene settings include objects surrounding the character, enclosed and exterior spaces surrounding the character, events and weather surrounding the character, and to an extent the world the character lives in – such as the culture, beliefs, and biases of that character’s world as they effect the setting they are in.
In revising your setting, check for the following:
- Setting description is generally no more than three or four sentences. Break up longer sections with a character thought or action.
- Setting is seen through the eyes of the point of view character. Every object and element mentioned is what that character would notice and think important. i.e. a chef would see food items, a pet lover would see the sleeping cat, a writer the desk, etc.
- The character interacts with the setting in some way – touching things, avoiding things, adapting to changes in it.
- The setting evokes thoughts and feelings in the character.
- The setting contributes to the plot. Is there a clue hidden in it? Is there a mysterious object or event? Is the character reminded of something from their past or given motivation to push toward their goal?
- Setting reflects the mood of the character. Here’s where setting can shine. Use setting as a mirror. If the character is in a dark moment, darken the setting. If the character is light-hearted, brighten it. But avoid cliché. Not every sad moment needs to happen when it’s raining. Intersperse contrast and irony. Have a bad thing happen on a beautiful day or in a place that should be safe.
- Include at least one or more sensory elements, such as colors, textures, shapes, forms, smells, touch, tastes in every description of setting. (I will provide more detail on editing for sensory elements in a future Tip)
<h1>THIRTEEN Revising the Beginning</h1>
We have now covered the major structural revisions—the elements that run across all scenes. In the next series of tips, we will hone in on the specifics of individual sections. Let’s start at the beginning.
Most drafts will benefit from having the beginning rewritten or tweaked during the revision process. Usually after you have completed a draft, you have a much better idea of the overall drift of your argument or story and can write a better opening—one that mirrors in some way the ending or conclusion.
Start by making sure you have included all the essentials of a good opening. Ask yourself:
ONE Have I established the time period and the setting and introduced the main character by the end of the opening paragraph or first page?
TWO Is the conclusion suggested or mirrored in some way? This could be a similar setting, or thematic element. If that is not possible, then consider having some object appear in the opening, that reappears or play a role at the end. Another choice is to mirror something said at the beginning, at the end.
THREE Is my voice and genre clear from the opening paragraph? If you have written a romcom, it should sound very different from a thriller.
FOUR Does the opening event (1<sup>st</sup> 2 paragraphs) immediately tell the reader where the story happens, when the story happens, and who the main character is?
FIVE Is the plot started? By the end of the first page is the main character’s story goal stated on the page. Is a flaw revealed. Is the character shown to be sympathetic in some way?
SIX Does it have spark? Have I done one or more of the following:
- Created a question in the reader’s mind
- Fascinated them with something amazing
- Provoked them
- Shocked them
- Stirred the reader’s emotions
- Surprised them
- Teased them
- Created a mystery?
- Made them laugh?
- Made them appreciate something profound?
- Puzzled them?
Finding a great opening sentence
A great deal is made of having a fantastic opening sentence. In my experience reading thousands of books, I have noticed that sometimes it is a great opening paragraph or first page that will draw a reader in. Here is a list of ways to catch reader attention. If you fit it into one sentence great. Otherwise aim for the first paragraphs.
- Begin at a life-changing moment in the character’s life
- Introduce a mystery
- Hint at a secret
- Create a moment of confusion
- Draw sympathy for the main character by showing them at risk
- Start at a high point or low point in the character’s life
Notice that all these have to do with the main character. What you probably do not want to start with is pure description of the setting nor with a secondary character. Not that it can’t be done, but it is going to be harder to win over your reader.
<h1>FOURTEEN Revising Love Scenes</h1>
Many writers I know, including me, often only sketch out love scenes during drafting, leaving them needing extensive revision. There is a good reason for this. Love scenes are some of the most highly emotional scenes in a romance. They require careful attention to the positioning of the lovers and the way body parts are described. There is always a worry of describing too much or not enough depending on the heat level.
Here are things to check for and some tips for revising love scenes.
- Check that every page has action, dialogue, inner thought, and sensual description.
- Love scene are action scenes. Keep the sentences short. Use simple past or present tense. Keep inner thought especially brief, a short sentence here and there. But don’t leave it out.
- Make sure the physical actions are possible. If necessary, use dolls to model the positions of your characters. (There was a reason you saved those Barbies, right?
- Use elements in the setting to enhance the mood, i.e. the textures of the surfaces, the aromas in the air, the lighting, etc.
- Avoid cliches. This is hard with so many love scenes out there, but add something to yours that makes it unique– a focus on an object or body part, a special touch or movement, etc. Something that tells the reader these are unique lovers.
- Use visceral/physical showing of emotion. (I have uploaded my personal Visceral Chart to my website for you.) I will post the link separately for you as a reply to this to avoid getting locked out.
- Check that you have used every sense – sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste.
- Check that you have covered each stage of intimacy in the love scene or leading up to it in order. Here are the stages: eye to body, eye to eye, voice to voice, hand to hand, hand to shoulder or other non-sexual parts of the body, hand to head (cheek, neck, hair), mouth to head (kiss), mouth to body, hand below waist, hand to genitals, intercourse.
- Check that your characters react true to the sexual natures you have given them-i.e. assertive, passive, anxious, willing, driven, etc.
- Make sure you have addressed safe sexual behavior in a way that fits your story.
When in doubt, find a love scene you wish you had written. Substitute your characters for the ones in the scene. Change their setting to yours and rewrite. What do you learn doing this? Transfer that to your love scene.
<h1>FIFTHEEN Revising the Ending</h1>
NOTE: I have placed revising the ending squarely in the middle of these tips for a reason. I have found that being settled on the ending gives an amazing feeling of satisfaction that can carry me through the painstaking prose revisions that come next.
Revising the Ending
The ending of a romance has to have a feeling of finality and happy ever after, even if the work is part of an ongoing series. It also has to be memorable and inspiring. The conclusion is the last thing the reader sees.
Check that in your ending:
- Every character, including secondary ones, got their fitting rewards.
- All the threads, secrets, and mysteries are tied up.
- If you are planning a series, everything is tied up that relates to the book’s plot and characters, but you have added in a small cliffhanger to be addressed in the next book.
- No new characters or important events suddenly appear unless they will be in the next book in a series.
- Description and inner thought is kept to a minimum and action and emotion is highlighted.
- Voice and tone match the rest of the story.
- Something from the opening is mirrored as detailed in yesterday’s tip.
- The last sentence incorporates the story theme. In romance, this is usually a statement of love in some form.
If you are having trouble getting your ending just right, read several endings of books you love that match your genre. Analyze what makes them work. Break down how the author organized the structure. How much is description, how much inner thought, how much dialogue, how much action and emotion? What is the order of these elements?
Try imagining the scene substituting in your characters and setting. What changes would you need to make? Rewrite based on what you learned.
Another approach is to speed write three or four ending scenes and choose the one that works best. Consider asking critique partners to help you choose.
<h1>SIXTEEN Revising Your Paragraphs</h1>
Up to now, we have focused on structural elements. We are now going to turn to the prose of your manuscript. Prose is how you choose to say and write your story, and what ultimately creates that nebulous element of style called “voice.”
The following tips will be much less prescriptive. You will need to select from my suggestions what works best for your work.
Tip: When in doubt, return to that matching novel that you love and study what that author did.
For example, if you are currently reading or re-reading Julia Quinn and writing a Regency in her style, you will notice her long complex paragraphs and many adverbs. If you are reading Lauren Blakely’s romance Well-Hung, you will find short quick paragraphs in close first-person point of view and rarely an adverb.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at how paragraphs work and how to make them better.
Paragraphs are a grouping of one or more sentences. A well-constructed paragraph should have all or most of the following:
- One topic. (Though sometimes a topic spreads over several paragraphs.)
- A logical order. One way to check for logic is to mentally insert <u>and so</u> between each sentence. (see below for some samples)
- Attention-grabbing start. The first sentence should give a piece of information the reader wants to know, expressed in a unique way. This is the place to use a power word or intriguing statement or dialogue.
- Varied sentence lengths and designs. (Unless you are using repetition of sentence patterns for effect as is done in numerous literary devices.)
- Varied starting words and a varied set of word sounds when read aloud. (Unless you are aiming for a particular sound effect such as alliteration, consonance, or assonance)
- Purposeful sentences. If a sentence in the paragraph is not contributing information on the topic, it should be removed no matter how beautifully written. Check this by leaving a questionable sentence out and seeing if the paragraph still makes sense.
- Bridges from one to the next. The paragraph should allude to the previous paragraph, perhaps by repeating a word or idea relating to the previous subject. At the end, it should hint at what is coming next.
- An attention-grabbing finish. A shorter sentence at the end of a paragraph adds finality, as does a power word placed at the very end of the last sentence.
Not every paragraph is the same. When revising your paragraphs identify its purpose in determining which of the above elements to emphasize.
Narrative paragraphs tell what is happening. These will be found in your action scenes, but also in your dialogue, transitions, and in your reflective scenes. Basically, anywhere characters are moving is narrative.
narrative most often follows the basic paragraph format of topic sentence followed by a few sentences, most likely in chronological order, and ending with a very final concluding or transitional sentence.
The trick in writing an effective narrative is to have each sentence flow into the next so the paragraph creates a unified whole. Here are some ways to check that your narrative is doing what it should.
Focus. Does every sentence contain reference to the topic, character, or event? Action paragraphs carry the reader through the character’s motions. Interrupting a fight scene, for example, to insert a with a detailed description of the hero’s sword, will annoy the reader. The same is true of dialogue. Interrupting the discussion with a long description of what someone is wearing will also break the reader’s concentration.
Unity. Is the same point of view and voice used throughout?
Logic. Do the sentences build on each other in an orderly way? Are they chronological or reflect cause and effect?
Natural progression. When narrating a character’s actions, check that it follows the natural progression of how people physically react when facing some event.
The action sequence is as follows:
- Something happens
- Person reacts physically
- Person reacts emotionally (see the emotion sequence in tip ELEVEN)
- Person has an internal thought
- Person makes a decision
- Person may say the decision aloud
- Person acts on their decision.
- Something happens, and the sequence begins again.
In your paragraph, you may leave out some of these steps, but you cannot change the order and have it sound realistic.
Descriptive paragraphs give information about something and create a visual/sensory image in the reader’s mind. We have already talked about setting, but description is also found in describing characters and actions.
Pure description, while often very pleasant to write, can make for slow reading, or worse, will be skipped over by readers more interested in the meat of your work.
Here are tips for working in description.
Dab it in. Description is such an important part of story writing that it is easy to get carried away in your draft. If you find descriptive paragraphs longer than three sentences, see if you can consolidate or pick out the most important thing to describe.
Alternatively, space out the descriptive details over several pages, dabbing a sentence in here and there. For example, if you have devoted an entire paragraph or more to describing the appearance of a new character. See if you can write one pithy sentence about that person, and then dab in other details as the character interacts with your POV character.
Regulate it. The more something is described the more important it will seem to the reader. Use a brief, one or two word description for a character who is passing through the story like a waitress or a taxi driver. Describe something having to do with your main character(s) on almost every page or two.
Start with description. Help readers settle into chapters and scenes by making sure that at the start you have described the location in one or two sentences. Use such vivid detail that the reader will feel they are there.
Weave in description. After establishing a setting or the appearance of something important to the characters, make a brief mention of it on each of the following pages to keep the reader immersed in the ambiance of the scene.(This is part of dabbing)
Zoom in and out. Spark up a plain description and create varied paragraphs by starting with a wide view of a setting, an event, or a character and then focusing in on a detail that has meaning to the character whose viewpoint we are in.
Vice versa, you can start with a small detail, like a woman’s earring, and then zoom out to describe her face. Add variation to paragraphs where the description seems mundane.
Use sensory language. We experience the world through all our senses. Yet, visual description predominates in most writing. Make sure you have used smell, taste, touch, sound, and more in every place you can.
Use it to strengthen emotions. Check that every paragraph reflects the emotional state or personal perspective of the point-of-view character.
Make it character-related. A character cannot see behind their head. How something is described must be through the eyes of your point-of view-character using their particular voice and vocabulary? For example, if a character normally talks in monosyllables, they are not going to suddenly use four-syllable words and elegant metaphors to describe a sunset.
Use emphasis. When describing something of great importance to the story, have you selected the least expected focal point and used vivid, surprising language?
In revising the prose of my paragraphs, I find it helpful to go through by type. I review all my character descriptions, then all my action scenes, then all my descriptions. To do this, I find the Find command very helpful.
I choose movement words I know will be in my action scenes based on my story from the simple walk, pull, and run to climb and swing. To find character description, I search on character names. For objects and places, I use the terms I describe them with. I do not find every paragraph this way, but I do find most and it is quick to do.
<h1>SEVENTEEN Revising Dialogue</h1>
In dialogue, two or more people or characters tell each other something. Dialogue has an immediacy to it that is missing from all other kinds of writing. In well-written dialogue, we can hear the voice of the speaker(s) in our head.
Dialogue should play a major role in your story. Pages full of descriptive and narrative paragraphs are less enticing than hearing the characters speak for themselves.
Lines of dialogue should be broken up by one or more of the following:
A name tag: This is a short piece of information that identifies who is speaking. Such as “Hello,” Bob said. The convention in modern writing is for the name tag to follow the spoken words and for the noun to precede the verb in the tag. Note: These are written in past tense if your narrative is past tense.; present tense if your narrative is in present.
Obviously, in real conversation, people don’t use name tags, and they can draw the reader out of your writing if you use them too much or make them too noticeable. Said is the recommended verb to use as readers skim over it. An occasional whisper, murmur, shout, or asked are acceptable. But avoid stronger verbs. The reader should be able to tell from what the character says or behaves how they are speaking.
In fact, if dialogue is well-written, you don’t need name tags at all. Try revising as many as possible from your draft.
See if you can substitute any of the tag ideas that follow.
An action tag (or beat): Rather than a said or asked, consider showing who and how the character is speaking by their actions. Here are a set of examples that show how the same words take on different tones depending on the character’s actions.
Bob slammed his fist on the table. “Don’t leave.”
Bob ran his hand down her arm. “Don’t leave.”
Bob shuffled the papers. “Don’t leave.”
Avoid overusing simple actions like nod or glance.
An emotional tag (or beat): Another way to identify the speaker and show the effect of the conversation is through visceral and involuntary physical reactions of the characters. Example:
“I found the letter.”
Katie’s stomach clenched. “Where?”
An inner thought: People don’t stop thinking when they are talking. Example:
“I found the letter.”
All her secrets would be exposed. “Where?”
In using these tags, consider if the action/emotion, or thought would logically come before the person speaks or after.
More on dialogue revision
To discover if your dialogue is working for you, check:
Balanced. Is there a readable mix of dialogue, narrative, and action in every scene? If dialogue goes on too long without action or narrative, the reader can get lost. A general rule is three lines of dialogue should be broken up by one of the tags above to help identify who is talking.
Meaningful. Do not use dialogue to tell the reader a fact that both characters know. Instead, ask: Why is the character saying this in this way? What do they want or desire of the other person? What does the other character want?
Not over tagged. Read aloud the dialogue without the tags and eliminate as many as you can. Better yet, try not to use any dialogue tags.
Adverb free. Do not use adverbs to tell how the character feels or says something. Show that feeling or expression in what they say. For example, replace, he said angrily with “I’ll get you for that.” Or describe how the person’s voice sounds by describing its tone and quality. Is it melodious or rasping? Does it trail off, or are the words spoken through gritted teeth?
Use character names only occasionally. In real life, we do not say a person’s name every time we speak to them.
Add subtext. Does your dialogue show how the character feels emotionally? One of the easiest ways to add subtext and also identify who is speaking at the same time is through action tags or beats. An action tag shows what the character is doing as they speak. A nervous character might fidget with their tie clip. An angry character might clench and unclench their fists.
Over do inner thought. Inserting the inner thought of the POV character in a dialogue can deepen the emotional context. Too much, however, can cause the reader to lose track of the conversation. Keep inner thoughts to a sentence or two. If longer, have the character refer back to the topic of the conversation when the dialogue restarts.
Make it sound unique. Does each character have their own voice and vocabulary? Read your dialogue aloud without the tags and see if you can tell who is speaking merely from the words they use and how they phrase their sentences.
Part of the setting. Do your characters interact with objects and elements in the setting as they talk, such as pick up an item or scuff their feet on the rug? Does something happen in the setting to interfere with or interrupt the conversation?
Cut the excess. Written dialogue is not real conversation. Remove cliché small talk that does not develop character or plot, such as greetings, compliments, and talk about the weather. Shrink long paragraphs of internal thought that interrupt a conversation.
Make Clear Who Says What. If you have two characters speaking in the same paragraph, rewrite so that each has their own paragraph.
Silence. Add in moments of silence. Not every comment by one character needs a spoken answer. White space makes for easier reading.
Fragment It. People do not always talk in complete sentences. Use sentence fragments and drop punctuation as needed. An ellipse . . . indicates a voice dropping away. An em dash—indicates a break in speech (there are no spaces).
Dialects. Be very careful when using a dialect. Using poor grammar can make a character seem stupid. The general advice is to sprinkle in a few colorful or common words, such as lass for an Irish accent, that give the flavor or the language, and/or have the POV character say something like: “His brogue deepened.”
Helps in fixing dialogue
- Read it aloud.
- Act it out with a partner.