Thursday, July 19, 2012

How to See What's Really There (not what you think is there) when Editing the Big Picture

A few times, now, I've mentioned that there are all sorts of "tricks" to being able to see what's actually on the page instead of what you think you put there.

So what are some of those tricks when you're macro editing, editing the big picture in your story?

• Write (or notecard) your story outline or synopsis.

Yep, you can write your outline after you write the book. Why would you do that, you ask?

Reason: It's easier to analyze a sentence than an entire scene.

How to do it: One sentence per scene. That's the key, see. Write no more than a sentence per scene. Write no less than a sentence per scene. If you cannot write that single sentence per scene, either nothing's happening and the scene needs some revision, or you're getting too wrapped up in the details. (Tip: drop all adjectives and adverbs unless it's something like "Jane learns Jill is dead", wherein dead is an adjective.)

When done with the writing, eye those sentences with an eye for 2 things:

  1. Does each one have a change?
  2. Does each one connect to the ones on either side of it?

No? Why not? (Maybe you wrote the wrong sentence, for example—but most likely, that's a warning sign.

Unfortunately, outlines and notecards are extremely popular at other stages in your writing—like, say, setting all these scenes up in advance.

I say "unfortunately" because that means I can't really find the links I'm looking for, though here's one author who uses this method.

In the past few months, I know I found a fantastic blog post or three about how to phrase those analyses sentences, I think on Janice Hardy's blog…but I've changed computers recently and lost my bookmarks. (Jami? Somebody? Link help, please!)

Personally, I'm a fan of using notecards in a method fashioned after Holly Lisle's methods: Write each scene on a notecard color-coded to indicate how much work is needed. My "color coding" = highlighter or marker along the top edge of a white notecard. I also make a key card for that stack. Reason for the white card, color on top: I can look at the top edge and see how much work the book will need, but I also can read the cards easily—due to a quirk in my learning style, color hinders me.

(As an aside, Holly Lisle's book Mugging the Muse is $0.99 well spent.)

• Check your story against the a formula.

Popular ones include Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! (spreadsheet here, made by Elizabeth Davies) and Larry Brooks's Story Engineering (spreadsheet here, made by Jami Gold—who has also combined those two.)

Some authors even develop their own for particular stories of theirs for their own genre.

You don't have to use a formula—I personally chose not to follow one with A Fistful of Fire, because whenever I looked into making it more…"conventional", I would've had to make changes that would've hurt what I'd meant it to be.

However, it's highly likely that I unconsciously applied some formula to that story. I have difficulty analyzing plot events and their purpose, but I've started checking A Fistful of Earth against some of those formulas and am finding it to be pretty close.

The book-based formulas make it easy: Download or create a spreadsheet for it, plug in your word count, see if the required thing happens at the required page (or ± a few pages), and if they don't match up, determine if you want to change it or not—because formulas exist for a reason, so you need to understand the formula to understand when and if you should break it.

(So in case you're wondering, yes, I'm well aware that I broke a lot of pacing "rules" with A Fistful of Fire. It also tends to be my most popular title, so evidently I pulled it off.)

• Write your blurb and tagline.

Your blurb shows up in things like your query letter or cover copy, and your tagline can be a pithy thing you'd want used on your cover or can be your elevator pitch. Writers like Janice Hardy and Jami Gold (and even Nathan have done such thorough jobs writing posts on how to do those things, that I just have to refer you to them:

Personally, I prefer doing at least the blurb before I write the book, because I'm pretty much a panster, and writing those in advance helps me target what I want my story to be.

Do you have any techniques, examples, or resource links that you find particularly useful that you'd like to add? Which technique(s) sound or are most useful to you?


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