I’ve been using a new technique in my novel writing to keep the material from losing focus – something that tended to happen a lot in my earlier drafts. Up to recently, I’d been reading through the manuscript with a pen and working with groups of fifty pages, jotting down ideas and story questions as I read.
I’m experimenting with a new technique where I work backwards by writing down the story questions from the previous chapter or two until I have a small list of story questions. I do this from memory before attempting any new chapters. (In this particular novel, a psychological thriller, each chapter is told from a distinct viewpoint, so the recording of story questions helps keep me up to date with what each character is doing.) The method also helps with pacing. Pacing itself is a huge nightmare in writing – too little tension and the story gets boring, too much tension too much of the time and the tension is spent.
I’ve also noticed that revising a story line by line doesn’t really work and can actually make the story worse. In adding and improving sentences, the original immediacy can easily get lost. Even inserting dialogue to bring something out in a character can upset the flow of the narrative.
The best editing, I believe, centres around relevant story questions and knowing your characters well, particularly their deepest conflicts and their most powerful desires. These drive the story. Two of the best questions to ask about a leading character are – 1) what do they fear most? and 2) what do they want most?
During the revision process, I tend to cut a lot of material. Yet, I always end up with more. This is because getting rid of material that plays little or no function in a story frees you up to develop new ideas.
- Read through a synopsis, sample chapter or blurb like summary and circle in red any words that capture your attention.
- Ask your main characters some questions – e.g. what are they doing on Saturday evening?
- Describe an incident through the eyes of three people.
- Problems narrating a section? Write it in second person, then rewrite the new version in the original viewpoint.