Today's post is for anybody who is rewriting a work of fiction. I'll see the rest of you in the Comments, with or without Miss Scarlett, Colonel Mustard and the revolver.
Rewriting. . .
This may be tough for beginners. If you find it so, please don't let it intimidate you. If it seems too advanced, put it aside for now. Maybe you'll find it useful at another time, once you've built up a bit more experience and confidence. You can still do very good work without knowing or doing any of this.
If you're proceeding, please read this carefully.
This is by no means a complete look at rewriting. This is just one part of the process, but it's a technique that covers a lot of ground. It is not intended for use in first drafts. Use this technique when you have a full draft, or a good-sized chunk of story to work with. You can also use it when you have a nagging feeling that something's missing from your manuscript, but you're having a hard time figuring out what that might be.
Let's get started.
Let's take your manuscript in hand and see what we find. . .
Start with your first scene. Look at the beginning of that scene, at the moment when your point-of-view character enters that scene. What emotion is she feeling? Identify it, and write it down. Use simple words, like happy, sad, mad, scared, sentimental, nostalgic, depressed, excited, etc.
Now skip to the end of the scene. What emotion is she or he feeling now?
Is there any difference between the emotions at the start and at the end? That's what you're looking for--a shift in "feeling" during the scene. If no such shift occurs--if your character seems to be feeling exactly the same at the end as at the beginning, then you can be pretty sure that nothing meaningful has actually happened in that scene. Either that, or something has happened, but for some reason your character didn't react to it.
When nothing happens in a scene that is meaningful enough to cause a shift of emotion,, it is very likely because the scene lacks one or more of the following elements: action, conflict, and/or surprise.
Check your scenes to see if they lack any of those elements.
If they do, make a note of it, so you can go back and rewrite those scenes to add those missing elements. When you do that, you'll also create the missing emotional shift.
And that's it. There are many other aspects of rewriting, but this is one way to help you bring your book to more vigorous life.
Here are some questions you may still have:
How big a shift in emotions does there need to be?
Depends. Big surprises, action, or conflict will probably result in big shifts in emotion. But not every scene will play at that fever pitch, nor should it. Emotions can shift anywhere up and down the scale from None to Melodrama. The important thing is that they do shift, either to some degree of "more positive," or to some degree of "more negative," or to a different emotion entirely.
Does every single scene have to do this?
Depends, but I'd err more on the side of doing it in every scene than in not doing it. Remember that the emotional shifts can be subtle. You're not planting an earthquake in every scene.
What will happen to your manuscript if you doctor your scenes in these ways?
It will turn into a more lively, more entertaining, more real story.
Try this with a few of your scenes. Try it with some published novels, by checking their scenes for the elements of conflict, action, surprise, and emotional shift. If you still have questions after that, ask me.