Editing the first draft – Assess your scenes – step 5/7


Hello! For those of you who have just arrived, this post is part 5/7 in my ‘editing the first draft’ action plan. You can find links to the other sections below, once each post is live.

  1. Print it off.
  2. Have a preliminary read through and cut out any initial ‘waffle’ that doesn’t serve the scene, and overall plot.
  3. Create ‘character sketches’.
  4. Create a ‘scene list’.
  5. Using the printed draft and the scene list, assess each scene in line with a ‘scene/sequel’ framework.
    5a. Cull any further waffle. Reorder scenes where necessary.
    5b. Add in scenes/notes for key details that may have been missed first time around.
  6. Write a descriptive summary of the entire plot, from start to finish.
  7. Face the second draft with a new-found confidence that you will be able to write and edit with more focus and clarity.

5. Assess each scene in line with a ‘scene/sequel’ framework

As mentioned in Step 4 where we made a scene list, Step 5 will take our list of scenes and work it up so we have a focused and detailed plan to follow when we rewrite and edit our first draft.

We will do this through:

a. dissecting and planning each scene even further using a scene/sequel framework and deleting all irrelevant material.
b. reordering where necessary.
c. adding in anything that is missing.

 

a. Planning scenes using a scene/sequel framework

There is some debate over how scenes should be structured in a novel, and like most elements of story writing, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, for those of you who are new to this, there are plenty of helpful frameworks you can follow to ensure that your scenes drive your novel forward. This will help you to avoid writing a novel which ends up being merely a lot of unnecessary and unrelated scenes stitched together. 

The framework I will be talking about here is the ‘scene/sequel’ framework. Using the term ‘scene’ is pretty confusing considering that, up until now, I have referred to all scenes as scenes (are you still with me?!), but author Randy Ingermanson suggests that all scenes can be classified into two types – a scene or a sequel. I could spend hours explaining it all here in my own words, but there are so many good explanations of this elsewhere that I think it would be more useful to link you to these resources instead. However I will briefly outline below. To put it simply:

a scene is made up of a GOAL, CONFLICT AND DISASTER
a sequel is made up of a REACTION, DILLEMMA AND DECISION
and one follows the other throughout pretty much the entire novel eg. scene, sequel, scene, sequel.

Read in more detail here and here 

Although this seems pretty prescriptive in how it works, I found that my writing naturally followed a similar pattern. Plus, following such a rigid ideal helps ensure your writing is working towards a goal, and that everything happens for a reason – either to move the narrative forward through the use of goals, to introduce conflict and intrigue via disasters, or to build character through reactions and decisions.

Because I like to work methodically, I typed up a simple worksheet to fill in – one for a scene and one for a sequel (see the photo below). Using my scene list, I then worked through it from start to finish, making note of which scenes in my list classified as ‘scenes’ and which ones classified as ‘sequels.’ In some scenes/sequels, it was obvious what my character’s goal, conflict, disaster/reaction, dilemma and decisions were, so I just noted down what was already there. In other places, it wasn’t even clear what was a scene and what was a sequel, so it was here that I made sure to ramp up the conflict, add in moments of reflection/reaction where it was lacking, OR make further cuts by deleting anything that didn’t fit the framework. Heather has written a good post here if you are stuck on how to add conflict to your novel.

 

Left – my scene worksheet Right – my sequel worksheet

b. Reorder where necessary & c. add in what’s missing

As well as using this framework to work on my scenes individually, it was also an opportunity to strengthen the overall structure of my novel. Considering I only followed a loose plan when writing my first draft, it was not a surprise that I had plot holes, inconsistencies and issues with my pacing. This stage of my editing was the chance to fix them. Again this is not a one-size-fits-all task, because every story is radically different and every draft will have different problems. However, I’ll list below the sorts of things that I needed to fix with my story, which may help you recognise similar issues in yours.

  • Weak sub-plots
  • Lack of rising tension/foreboding
  • Inconsistent/erratic/underdeveloped characters
  • Missing character introductions and underdeveloped relationships
  • Missing important back story
  • Overuse of cliche
  • Plot holes

Once I recognised these issues, I went about fixing them by amending/adding to my scene list.

  • Some issues required adding in entirely new scenes.
  • Others issues required some reordering of full scenes, or reordering events within them. If you need a helpful reminder on the structure of your novel as a whole, take a look at this post which explores the three act structure, goals and the character arc in detail.  
  • In some places I only needed to add a sentence or two to existing scenes as reminders of detail I needed to cover when redrafting eg. ‘elude to rising tension between x and x here’.
  • In some places I needed to change some of the details of the scene, but not necessarily the structure of the scenes itself eg. where I was using a cliched location, I’d swap it out for something more unique.

Once this stage was complete, I now had an extremely detailed and focused list of scenes. I could have started redrafting my second draft with only this, however, I chose to do one more step to really get my head back in the zone. Check out step 6 where I explore the benefits of writing a full descriptive summary of your novel, from start to finish.  >>>>>>>>>>

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