When It is Time to Rewrite: 4 Steps to Improve Your Manuscript

My fourth novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, is due to my editor on August 1. Yes, I am aware that is a mere 29 days away. No, I am not counting hours or minutes — yet.

With my fast draft in hand … well, spread all over my desk and sometimes all over the coffee table in the family room … I am ready for rewrites.

Yes, yes, I am.

First things first: there are certain things I don’t do when I am this close to deadline and deep into rewriting.

  • I do not clean my house.
  • I do not cook.

Hmmm. Reality is, I don’t clean my house or cook that much when I’m off deadline. I’m just being honest here. When I’m off deadline, I’m plotting a new novel or I’m dealing with second round edits or galleys . . . or something! I’m thankful my husband loves me.

What do I do when I rewrite? I embrace all that I love about my story — all that I’ve discovered as I wrote my fast draft — and I take very specific steps to make it better. Here are 4 steps to improve your story as you rewrite:

1. Remember your Story Question.  The Story Question for Crazy Little Thing Called Love is: What if you discovered that what you thought was your biggest mistake was actually the right choice? This question fuels my story, and I am weaving it through my novel and applying it to every chapter, scene by scene. I am also answering the Story Question through the actions and decisions of my main characters and subplot characters.

2. Determine the main emotion for every scene. As I’ve judged contest entries, I’ve found that I’m sometimes unsure what the point of view (POV) character is feeling. There’s either no clear emotion — or too many emotions — in the scene. As I rewrite, I am taking each scene and layering in on one emotion for my POV character. I like to keep a chart that lists various emotions close at hand to help me do this.

3. Establish a strong Storyworld. My fast draft is two-thirds dialogue. Okay, maybe three-quarters dialogue. Maybe … more. When I rewrite, I go back and build in a sense of where they are and who my characters are. If I’m smart, I do this in the fast draft stage, taking the time to jot down what my POV character might hear, see, taste, smell, touch during every given scene. This time, I didn’t do that, but that’s no excuse to skip crafting Storyworld. In my last post, I talked about using the FOCUS technique to create vivid scenes.

4. Hook your reader all the way through your book! We like to talk about hooking readers with the first line(s) of our novels. The reality is, we need to hook readers over and over again with the first line(s) of every scene so that they keep turning pages, staying up late into the night reading our books. As I rewrite, I’m evaluating every opening line in every scene. I’ve dogeared page 104 in From the Inside … Out reviewing Susie’s SHARP technique to build a strong Hook.

Rewrites are hard work, yes. But they are good hard work — our chance to take our story in the raw and mold it and shape it into the best it can be.

Until we send it off to our editors — or our craft partners — and they get a chance to reshape and remold it.

But that’s another blog post.

 

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Techniques for adding emotion: using other “Voices” in your scene

I love to watch people. Especially in an airport. Yes, I admit I compare myself to others (it’s a woman thing, I think), and I discovered that it’s a great way to reveal the emotional landscape of a character.  

See, we often project how we feel in how we might describe a character. Consider this description from the POV of our test subject, Darla, a woman who is afraid to fly. She sees this woman in the gate area: 

Across from her, a woman’s sandaled foot tapped to unheard music, her eyes closed, her hand draped over her carryon bag. In her other hand, an empty coffee cup from Starbucks – had she passed a Starbucks on the way in? — as if she’d started her morning early. Sure, fatigue pressed into the wrinkles of her dress pants, flattened her blonde hair. Still, she hadn’t a hint of sweat, nor even a crease on her forehead as the gate attendant announced their flight. Indeed, in moments she’d bounded into line, handing over her ticket, wearing an expression that suggested she’d finish her nap in-flight. A regular Amelia Earhart.

Darla sees a calm, if not tired, passenger. Hopefully you can hear some envy from Darla, some wistfulness that she might be that calm, even accustomed to flying. 

This powerful emotional layer technique takes a person in the setting and uses it in two ways.  I like to call it the other VOICES in the scene. 

First, use these other people like a mirror to your character’s emotional state: 

This is from a book called the Second Coming of Lucy Hatch; about a woman who longs to figure out how to live away when her husband dies, and discovers that she never really did. Her description of a local country singer, Ash Farrell, is juxtaposed to the dismal life she has lived.

A flashbulb went off, illuminating the fact onstage, igniting an image from some dim, long buried corner of my memory. Ash Farrell. 

If I’d given him any thought at all, I have picture him on his bike, flying down some wooded highway with his guitar strapped to his back, his hair whipping clean back from his face as the center stripe beneath him blurred to solid white, taking him away from the rest of us and our small finite lives; I would not have thought East Texas could hold him.

Really, she’s wondering how it held her all this time.

Another way to use other people is to juxtapose them with the character. 

Here’s another line from Lucy Hatch – she’s in grief, but she sees her mother, also in grief…

She wandered the house in a dirty satin negligee, drinking whiskey out of a jelly glass…her future dragging behind her in the tail of her ratty robe.

We don’t have to have Lucy tell us that she doesn’t want to be like that.

This technique is just a matter of letting your character see someone who embodies the same or opposite emotion as your character, and letting them describe them in their voice, adding inflection, opinion, and using strong verbs and nouns to convey that emotion.

Try this: look around the scene. Who do you have in the scene who might have been there, done that, in terms of your character’s emotions. What do they look like now? Or, is there someone your character would like to emulate? Or even, is there someone your character would never want to be?

This is another way to “trick” your reader by layering in the emotions of your character without naming them, but rather bouncing them off an ancillary character.

Next Monday, we’ll continue this discussion with the strongest way to show emotions: ACTION!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

 

 

P.S. If you’re headed to a conference, check out the new MBT book: The Truth about Conferences! How to have a successful writers conference! (currently a digital download (pdf. mobi. epub)) Look for the hard copy soon!  And, to attend the FREE Truth about Conferences Seminar, with insider tips and free MBT Goodies, sign up for our webinar HERE: http://www.anymeeting.com/PIID=E054DB848748

Quick Skills: Scene Creation Checklist

I thought it might be helpful if I posted the Scene Creation Steps  you could use when crafting a chapter. If you’ve been following the blog for the past month, we’ve addressed each of these sections/elements in the blogs.

Part One

Keeping Scene Momentum: Character Journal

Ask the following questions:

1. What did you think about what just happened?

2. What are your choices?

3. What will you do next, and why?

4. What is the worst thing that could happen to you right now?

5. And, if it’s a romance –how do you feel about this person?  What do you fear happening emotionally?

 

Part Two

Create Scene Tension

Scene Tension Equation: Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.

Step 1: Determine your Action Objectives

What kind of scene is it?

  •  Action: Goal, Conflict, Disaster
  • Reaction: Response, Dilemma, Decision

 

Ask: What does POV want? What does he/she want at this moment? Emotionally, physically? Answering this question will help you build the conflict.

Add in:    Why? (do they want this?)

                What is the Push/Pull?

Every scene has to have an emotional or physical push/pull (or combination thereof).  It’s the PUSH away from something negative, and the PULL toward something positive.

What’s at Stake: What will happen if they DON’T meet their goal? What fear hovers over the scene?

What is your character’s Goal? (this may be different from the Want, but be driven by the Want and the Why.)

 

Step 2: What are the Obstacles?

What will stand in the way of your character achieving this goal? Obstacles can be People, Situations, (weather, or machines, or even government), or even a person’s own emotions/values.

 

Step 3: Create A Fear of Failure

Will your character reach his/her goal?

ü  If not, then hint that they will in the scene, make them believe they’ll have victory, only to disappoint them at the end.

ü  If yes, then hint that they will fail, only to surprise them at the end.

 

Step 4: Start On the RUN!

Start with the character already in the scene. Can you move your character 5 minutes later into the scene?

 

Step 5: Create Sympathy:

Is your character doing something sympathetic? Something that makes us care about them? Are her emotions realistic?

 

Step 6: Where do you start? (Build the 5 Ws/Facts)

Start with the basics – the 5 W’s. Who, What, Where, Why, When. As the reader we need to know who is in the scene, where it is, when it is, what is going on around them, and a little about why they’re there.

ASK:

  • Who – Who are the players in the scene? (And how do they feel about being there?)
  • Where – What details stands out to the character? Why is this significant to the character?
  • When is it – what is the time of year, and how do we know that (we’re again looking for details here).
  • What – What other activities are going on in the scene? What is your pov character doing?
  • Why – why is she/he in this place?

 

Part Three

Find your First Line/First Paragraph

  • What are the Stakes?
  •  How will you create Sympathy for your character (Hero/Heroine ID),
  •  Are you starting with a sympathetic situation?
  • Are you starting with a relatable emotion?
  • How will your Anchor your reader into the scene with Storyworld? (Hint: Sight, Smell, Sound, Touch Taste)
  • Are you starting your scene On the Run – with the scene already in motion?
  • What Problem/Storyquestion will your character deal with?
  • Set the HOOK by asking:  Now, what is my character thinking right now.  How can I express this in a statement, question, action or determination.

Part Four

End with Bait for the next chapter. (How can I raise a new problem, or an “Uh Oh” that compels my reader to turn the page?)

It helps to talk through these steps with a craft partner. Take notes…and then sit down and write!

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling Novel. A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for! Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

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Quick Skills: How to Build Scene Tension

I just finished book 2 of the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire.

Excuse me while I go pick up book 3 and spend the day ignoring my to-do list. This series is a lesson in how to create fabulous tension. Not only is the story premise powerful, but every chapter has that “can’t put down” quality.

Why? TENSION on every page (as the Master Donald Maas would say!)

But what is tension. Recently, I read approximately 1,768,639 contest entries. Okay, not quite that many, but it felt like it. And very few really wove real tension into their story. Obstacles and Activity are not Tension. Tension is a combination of a Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure. If any of these are missing, we don’t have tension.

Obstacles can be People, Situations, (weather, or machines, or even government), or even a person’s own emotions/values. But they are simply TOOLS to stand in the way of what the character WANTS. And that Want must be backed up with a powerful WHY.

But how do you build that tension into a scene? Here’s a step by step process that I use that helps me craft a scene. 

Step 1: Determine your Action Objectives: What kind of scene is it?

  • Action: Goal, Conflict, Disaster
  • Reaction: Response, Dilemma, Decision

Ask: What does POV want? What does he/she want at this moment? Emotionally, physically? Answering this question will help you build the conflict.

Add in:

  • Why? (do they want this?) 
  • What is the Push/Pull? Every scene has to have an emotional or physical push/pull (or combination thereof).  It’s the PUSH away from something negative, and the PULL toward something positive.
  • What’s at Stake: What will happen if they DON’T meet their goal? What fear hovers over the scene?
  • What is your character’s Goal? (this may be different from the Want, but be driven by the Want and the Why.)

Step 2: What are the Obstacles? What will stand in the way of your character achieving this goal? Obstacles can be People, Situations, (weather, or machines, or even government), or even a person’s own emotions/values. 

Step 3: Create A Fear of Failure: Will your character reach his/her goal?

  • If not, then hint that they will in the scene, make them believe they’ll have victory, only to disappoint them at the end.
  • If yes, then hint that they will fail, only to surprise them at the end.

Step 4: Start On the RUN! Start with the character already in the scene. Can you move your character 5 minutes later into the scene?

Step 5: Create Sympathy: Is your character doing something sympathetic? Something that makes us care about them? Are her emotions realistic?

Step 6: Where do you start? (Build the 5 Ws/Facts) Start with the basics – the 5 W’s. Who, What, Where, Why, When. As the reader we need to know who is in the scene, where it is, when it is, what is going on around them, and a little about why they’re there.

ASK:

  • Who – Who are the players in the scene? (And how do they feel about being there?)
  • Where – What details stands out to the character? Why is this significant to the character?
  • When is it – what is the time of year, and how do we know that (we’re again looking for details here).
  • What – What other activities are going on in the scene? What is your pov character doing?
  • Why – why is she/he in this place?

Now add: 5 senses: To really draw your storyworld you need to use the 5 senses to engage our emotions. Sight, Smell, Sound, Touch Taste

Now you’re ready to start your scene.

Quick Skills: Do you have all the components of a Tension-filled scene? Check the equation!

Sympathetic Character + Stakes + Goals + Obstacles + Fear of Failure.

Have a great writing week!

Susie May

P.S. As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class. For more info, check out: www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team/. Hope to see you at practice!