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Many of you have written, or are in the middle of writing, your first novel, and some of you may have written several. While your levels of experience vary the one thing that is consistent is the need to edit every novel you write. A first draft is never perfect and it is in the rewriting that your story truly finds its stride and comes alive.
One of the most important parts of the editing process is your initial assessment of the first draft. You will refer back to this at almost every point of the editing process.
In this lesson we’ll be covering how to kick-start your editing practice. Through a series of lessons, video and exercises you’ll learn how to start detaching yourself from your work, methodically break down editing tasks, and get a bird’s eye view of the first draft of your manuscript. We will then explore pacing and how you can use your scene map to adjust pacing so readers will not want to put your book down!
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TOPIC ONE: Scene Mapping & Story Overview – A Video From Kim
TOPIC TWO: The Two Most Important Self-Editing Qualities
When penning your first draft you need to be passionately invested in what you write. But when it comes to self-editing, the two most important qualities you need to cultivate are detachment and a methodical approach.
The hardest to develop of the two is detachment, because you love your story and are invested in the characters and the world. However, to truly bring the story to life for others, a writer needs to be able to look at their manuscript in its component parts and take out what isn’t working in order to strengthen the rest.
After the pain of detaching, being methodical becomes easier: each round of editing is a series of steps to be ticked off and once the final step is completed, the manuscript will be in much better shape. This course will teach you various methods to add to your check list. This fortnight’s first assignment, as detailed in the above video and in the text below, will help you detach yourself from your work.
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TOPIC THREE: Scene Mapping
A scene map is a breakdown of the book, chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene. This is similar to a film treatment; however, rather than detailing the book in prose, a scene map breaks down the novel in a table in dot point form with room for notes. This is a way to get a holistic view of the work and to keep it in abstract, allowing you to find and fix problematic scenes.
Each scene in a novel is a building block which you can examine and fix separately, and individual blocks can be thrown away if they don’t fit into the narrative as a whole. Beginning a scene map is as simple as going to Chapter One and jotting down a few notes describing the first scene, then the second scene and so on for each chapter. You don’t necessarily need to fully read the whole of your novel; what you are after is an overview, so skimming your prose will result in a much more concise summary of each scene.
As you are moving through each scene there are three things worth checking and taking note of:
Repetition is one of the ways a story becomes boring or unclear. This can be repetition in setting, conflict, character development, emotions displayed etc. Look at repetition on a large scale rather than on a line edit, word use level. If there is a scene showing that a band’s lead singer and the rest of the band aren’t getting on, and then a similar scene a couple of chapters later, consider merging the two.
Perhaps there are two characters whose purpose is to antagonise the main character. What do these characters individually contribute to the narrative? Consider whether a single character would be a more compelling and stronger antagonist.
What’s At Stake?
Is there a clear sense of what is at stake in each scene? Articulating this helps keep your conflict sharp and the reader’s interest piqued. Ask yourself what your characters stand to gain or lose in each chapter. Is this apparent? Is it overt or implicit (the effectiveness of this will depend on your genre)? Does the tension around what’s at stake pervade every chapter? Every scene?
By moderating pace you aim to keep the dynamic interesting, making sure there is a good mix of action, introspection and description. Pace problems are not just places where a reader gets bored, they’re also places where the dynamics have flat-lined and become too similar. For example, too many helicopter chases in an action thriller. To break this down further:
- Action: Refers to scenes and ideas that rely on activity. Things happen and they’re often physical, external, and dramatic.
- Introspection: Refers to scenes and ideas that rely on thoughts and feelings. Things don’t necessarily happen, but they’re processed through the filter of a character’s viewpoint. These moments are often internal.
- Description: Refers to scenes and ideas that build atmosphere or create a sense of place and context. They’re often static, but can work brilliantly before a scene of great action.
There are various aspects of a scene that can be a combination of the above three elements. For example, dialogue can be either action or introspection:
- Two characters having a fight can be an action scene because things are happening;
- Two characters talking about their feelings can be more introspective.
Many scenes are a mixture of all three, but one generally comes to the fore in any given scene. When examining the entirety of your scene map the largest proportion of scenes in a book should be action and the smallest proportion of scenes should be description.
There are several fixes you can apply to scenes to affect the first-draft pacing and make it more dynamic:
- If you feel the pace of the story is dragging: Cut down how many scenes contain introspection or description. Rewrite your characters to behave more actively, rather than passively or reactively. If they are waiting around for the next big plot event, this may be an opportunity to expand on a subplot, or cut down on the ‘in-between’ prose
- If you feel the pace of the story has been unrelentingly fast:This can result in readers skimming across the top of the narrative and often happens towards the end of the story. Add an introspective scene exploring the character’s personal stakes or ground your reader by adding a descriptive scene.
EXAMPLE: Sample Scene Map
Look at the sample below and identify the key problems listed above that become clear in the scene map. Note that it starts at chapter 11 of a novel.
The viewpoint character is italicised.
|Chapter & Scene||Notes|
||This is a place for handwritten notes as you go through each scene.|
||Note things you like, things you hate, and things you want to change.|
||Once all your notes are in here, you have a blueprint for rewriting: just check off all your changes in these boxes and voila!|
In the above example there is:
- A lot of repetition: There are several scenes where Eliza has trouble with her band. These could be merged into one distinctive scene.
- Several lacklustre scenes: Eliza’s scenes have little sense of what’s at stake in them and chapter 13, scene ‘4’ doesn’t seem to have a reason to exist at all.
- Passive scenes: In chapter 14, scene ‘5’ you have the remembering scene. This is passive and boring for the reader. Make this more exciting and increase the pace by actually showing the scene with Antonio in action.
- Interesting scenes are buried: Janette’s exciting escape and Roland’s father’s accident are fleeting events in a chapter. Perhaps the author can group the scenes differently, so that a single chapter or half of the chapter has emotional connection while the next chapter or other half of the chapter has narrative pull.
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You cannot begin to fix and improve a novel until you have an overall idea of how it hangs together. By breaking your novel up into its components you can see if each section of your manuscript is pulling its weight and contributing to the narrative as a whole. Make this initial assessment and you’ll be well on your way to refining your novel into one that is impossible to put down.
One of the most important parts of the editing process is your initial assessment of the first draft. You will refer back to this at almost every point of the editing process and indeed in every structural lesson of this course.
This activity will:
- Make you aware of repetitions and scenes that go nowhere,
- Allow you to assess and become aware of how scenes are functioning in the overall narrative,
- Help you detach from your manuscript.
WHAT TO DO:
Skim read through your novel and draw up a scene map. Do this as a table in your word processor or in a spreadsheet. Then print this table out and stick it onto the wall in front of your writing desk. This is your editing map for the next year.
As you move through the Year Of The Edit lessons and revise, you will also need to revisit and change this scene map to suit your ever-evolving story.
In the Creating A Scene Map Forum, let your peers know which of the three aspects (repetition, what’s at stake, or pace) you have uncovered after doing your scene map. If you’re having trouble determining how these various aspects can be fixed, put the questions to the group and brainstorm.
The more effort you put into the forums to help others, the more likely you will receive that same help in return when you need it.
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