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Hi, Joanna


Making your scenes “in the moment” improves the ability of readers to immerse themselves in the story and identify with the viewpoint character. Making a scene truly moment-to-moment can be a challenge for writers because the early drafts often involve writing what we need to understand (and the reader doesn’t). This leads to scenes that are heavy on exposition, reflection about the past, and even flashbacks and flashforwards. (Robert Cormier, author of The Chocolate War, said, though needed to write them, he always needed to cut the first three chapters of his books.)

So it’s just fine (probably necessary) to drop out of moment-to-moment in drafts, but this needs to get cleaned up in rewriting.

Here are my steps:

1 Print out the first pages (up to ten).
2 Highlight
• any exposition
• any flashbacks or flashforwards
• any reflection that includes information that is not in the moment (including reflection that occurs in the scene time but dwells on the past)
• any dialogue that references the past
3 Make an electronic copy of the pages you’ve marked up so you can work with them without losing your original ideas.
4 Cut everything that is highlighted on your printed pages. This will be heartbreaking, but do it.
5 Work to make the remaining prose make sense through what is seen, what is sensed, what is said, what is done, and (carefully) what is thought in the moment. It is not necessary for all reader questions to be answered. It will be tempting to put a lot of out of the moment material in the thoughts. Don’t do that.
6 Read the pages out loud to get a sense of how they flow and if they stay sequential in the moment. Often, important pieces are left out or presented in the wrong order. After the fixes, see if YOU feel immersed.
7 Go back and look at the highlighted prose on the printed copy. Some of it can be revealed LATER (almost always to good effect). Circle that. Some, THE READER DOESN’T REALLY NEED, although you may. Strike that. Some (probably a small amount) is NEEDED in your first ten pages. (When in doubt, leave it out.)
8 Work the NEEDED bits into the first ten pages with care. Smooth the prose.

In the end, you should have a more immersive beginning (or full story, for flash fiction). I’ve found that it encourages me to include more action and make the pages more question-raising (removing unnecessary explanations). Readers find moment-to-moment addictive and will keep reading. And you can use more exposition, etc., later on, after they are fully engaged with the story.

This process is (purposely) overdoing things. With practice, you may be able to achieve moment-to-moment by just reviewing the pages and deleting what’s not needed in them.


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