Being a member of a writing organization like Sisters in Crime (SinC) or Mystery Writers of America (MWA) is one of those things that we do to add street cred, right? Since I’m writing mysteries at this point, those are my organizations of genre. There are so many others, like Romance Writers of America (RWA), Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
The reason I bring it up is because these organizations offer webinars about the craft. Usually for FREE. Maybe there have been more offerings lately because they are all online at this point, or maybe I just didn’t pay attention before, but holy cow. Lots of good stuff out there.
This past week I attended a SinC webinar, “Revolutionary Editing”, presented by the recent Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee, Jess Lourey (a fellow MN author and a kitten foster mom who posts the most adorable kitten vids on FB!). Jess is a tenured creative writing professor (which I didn’t realize). She also offers courses and writing retreats through her Jess Lourey University website. She gave “quick and dirty tips” for editing.
Jess’ technique is pretty straightforward: check the character arc, analyze the plot (I ruminated about that last week), and look at each scene to make sure there is enough “power” in it (my word, not hers).
There are so many different methods for editing, probably as many as there are writers. I don’t have a specific method, other than read through the draft, make notes, revise, let the story sit for a couple weeks, rinse and repeat. When I do revise, I try to think about the structure, which I wrote about last week. After Jess Lourey’s webinar, I have a new technique I want to try.
It was the scene part of her process that stuck in my head. We all know a scene needs to feed into the story goal by either moving the story/plot forward or supporting the character arc. If it doesn’t, it should be dropped or rewritten. Jess’ suggestions went beyond that in a way that made me really think:
- A summary of a scene (like, a one- or two-sentence summary) should never transition to the next scene with “and then”. For example: This happens, and then this happens, and then … Instead, between each scene you should be able to say a phrase like: but, because, therefore, or meanwhile. For example: This happens, but then this happens, because then this happens, and meanwhile/therefore this happens. (This is actually from a video short by the writers of ‘South Park’, in case it sounds familiar.)
- Each scene should have at least 2 of these elements: action (a physical, emotional, or psychic shift), relationship (romantic, friendship, or humor), information, suspense, and/or emotion (not book emotion, but reader emotion). Really intense scenes (like the climax) should have 4 or 5 of these.
Jess uses notecards; one card for each scene, with the scene summary. That way she can shuffle the scenes around, and quickly see if that scene has the appropriate amount of action, relationship, information, suspense, and/or emotion.
It’s interesting how much a simple concept or practice can make so much sense! In the past I have written scene summaries on notecards so I can shuffle them around, but it never occured to me to analyze them for content like that. It makes a lot of sense, at least to me.
I’m almost to the halfway point in my revision, and after Jess’ webinar (I think I actually knew there was a problem, but for some reason I could “visualize” it after the webinar), I have a major fix figured out. It’s the whole midpoint thing, that black moment when the main character is ready to throw up her hands, pick up her toys, and go home. My “black moment” wasn’t bleak enough, so now *rubs hands together and cackles maniacally* I have a fix for it.
Hope your writing is going well! This week we’re getting an unusual wave of warm weather (yes, even a degree below freezing is warm this time of year in MN), and, of course, more snow. We’ve been pretty spoiled this year with a mild winter.