It’s Tip Tuesday, and since I’m diving back into my NanoWriMo work in progress this week, I’m going to offer a tip on revising, that my critique partner Tara shared with me when we first started swapping work.
Before I get to it though, let’s backtrack a little. If you’ve read my blog series on my writing process, you know the drill: You’ve got a first draft to work with, you’ve taken a break from it for roughly a month, and you’ve gone back and read through the entire thing to refresh your memory. Hopefully during this process you were able to note places to work-in new ideas or potential new scenes, and any other areas where your manuscript may be lacking. For me, a first draft is usually dialogue heavy, lacking description, and info-dumpy. Info dumps are where you go on for paragraphs at a time “telling” your reader something (usually backstory), without any mention of what is going on in the scene. It’s like you just hit the pause button on the action to wax poetic about everything your character has ever done in life up until his point. These paragraphs might be the most eloquent writing you’ve ever pumped out, but info dumping gets boring fast, and it pulls the reader out of the story.
So onto the today’s tip. When I “met” Tara through Pitch Wars, I was pretty new to getting feedback. To be honest, I had been writing and rewriting, and making all the same mistakes over and over. Tara had some great advice, which I still keep in mind today. She shared with me an excellent exercise to try so you can shine a light on some of the problems in your WIP.
Start with a chapter—you can do more if you want, but one chapter—hell, even a few pages, was enough for me to get the point. Printing it off is best, but if you have no access to a printer, you can still do this in any word processing program. Now we are going to geek out with some highlighters (or the highlighter function). Make yourself a little legend and assign a color to represent each of the following:
· Dialogue – Speech.
· Visceral Reactions – Instinctive bodily responses to whatever is going on (ie/ wave of nausea, quickening heart rate). Use these sparingly so not to overdo it and don’t use too many cliché phrases—try to make them your own.
· Action – Gestures and movement in the story (ie/ he crossed the room, she crossed her arms) Action can help break up your dialogue.
· Narrative – What is going on, or the recounting of events via your point of view character. The explanations and the backstory. It can break up dialogue for the character to think in their head but be careful not to info dump.
· Inner Monologues – The character’s inner thoughts / feelings. You’ll often see these italicized. These thoughts are like a window into the character’s private perception of what is going on—the things they don’t or won’t say out loud. Again, use sparingly and use wisely. You can reveal important character traits or emotion with inner monologue.
Now for the fun part: Go through your pages and highlight each of the above instances in the colors you chose. The idea here is to see a balanced mix of colors, as opposed to big chunks of certain colors. I don’t know about you, but the first time I ever did this, I was appalled with the results. I had pages of backstory with no action or dialogue breaking it up. I had sections of dialogue with no narrative or action—simply just two people talking at each other. You might find you haven’t utilized visceral reactions or inner monologues at all, which are great tools for getting into your character’s heads and achieving deeper point of view.
This doesn’t mean that what you’ve started with is bad and that you need to cut it all or start over, it just means you might need to shake things up. Backstory, for example, can be rectified by threading in those info dumps on a need to know basis. Ask yourself, what information does the reader need to know right NOW in this scene in order to not be confused? Similarly, long passages of dialogue come to life when you set the scene, add movement, and some of the character’s inner thoughts in order to reveal what they’re really thinking.
Most importantly, remember that first drafts are meant to be improved :)
Photo: Dee @ Copper and Wild (Unsplash)