At times frustrating and rewarding, editing and revising your draft inevitably comes around in the writing process. You might feel a sense of impending dread as you approach this stage, but fear not! Editing is where the magic happens. You’ve gotten the ideas down on paper; now comes the time to bring clarity to them.
Take a deep breath, and prepare yourself. It won’t be easy, and you’ll probably have to kill some darlings, but it’s all for the best. This is the part where you start making your story the best it can be. Here’s a few questions to keep in mind:
What is the purpose of the scene?
Each scene should contribute to the story in some way. Be it characterization, plot, exposition, or otherwise, the scene will progress the story and reveal some new information. Maybe you’re setting up an important decision, or delivering the consequences to a character’s actions. Regardless, your scene should have something happen. If there’s a sequence you wrote where the characters just hang out exchanging quips, and nothing new is developing, it might be time to kill that darling.
That being said, downtime for characters is still important. It makes them relatable, breaks up intense action, and shows the audience a relaxed side of the characters. Plus, a sequence like this allows the characters to be happy and hopeful – which can make it all the more devastating for the reader if you take it all away. So think carefully about the intention behind everything, and what it contributes to your story overall.
Would the character act this way?
Characters tend to drive our stories. They want something, and aim to achieve that goal. What they want and where they’ve been defines them, and they will act accordingly. But morals and ethics will muddle these decisions, as will conflicting character interests.
When combing over your draft, think about what each character wants within the scene. Why do they want it? What lengths will they go to achieve that thing? What lines will they refuse to cross? If anything seems out of character, or goes against the grain of the desired development, some tweaking may be in order.
What does each character know or not know?
When an author slips up and a character acts upon something they should not know about, plot holes arise. Keeping the knowledge of your story straight can be tricky. As the writer, you know everything going on in your narrative, but the character’s will most likely lack omniscience.
Take note of what you’ve revealed at what point in the story. This includes background information your characters might already know. Tracking this knowledge will help you maintain clarity and keep things interesting for your reader.
What are the stakes?
Wanting something is good and all, but losing it? Stakes make the story captivating and dramatic. We want to not only keep track of the stakes, but gauge whether they escalate or deescalate as the narrative progresses.
Your character’s want something – make sure that the cost of failure impacts their lives. What changes if they achieve or fail to achieve their goal? Does the protagonist even affect the outcome of the story?
How much figurative language is too much?
I struggle with this question a lot. I tend to over indulge myself when writing my first draft, going off on tangents as I try to make everything sound as poetic as possible. I love figurative language, but loving it too much can be a fault. While you may want your story to sound as elegant as possible, you still want your story to progress forward.
Read through your current draft and pay attention to how much figurative language you include. Of course, don’t cut everything – figurative language engages the audience and stimulates the imagination. But ensure each metaphor and simile adds to the progression of your storytelling without distracting from the main plotline too much.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.
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