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By the time you get to writing your third draft, your attention is drawn to writing individual scenes
When it comes to writing the third draft, focus comes to working on individual scenes.

You have read through your manuscript and scrutinized your dialogue, so what’s next. It’s time to edit the most important building block in the story. What is the most important building block of the story?

No, its not descriptions nor is it the reporting of events that these building blocks.

You could argue that it was characters, or the plot that are the basic building blocks, but it is not. Yes, they are important, but I think of those are more like the clay and mortar of the novel.

Scenes are the building block of the story. They are the energy of the story. They are about events that occur in a specific place.

Scenes are a Moment in Time

Scenes are where your characters are in a specific time, a specific locale and where they are doing things that move the story forward toward the next scene and the next act. 

In this edit, you’re making sure that each scene does exactly what the previous statement says. Nothing more, nothing less. Anything that doesn’t fit that description must be eliminated as fluff. Does the description of the paintings on the wall add to the tone of the scene or is it just filler? Does describing the weather foretell of what’s to come in the scene. (Like describing a small cloud on the horizon eventually becoming a storm). Get to the point, show up what is happening to our characters. Paint us a picture of what is happening to them. Can you picture your scene like a scene from a movie? If not, try it. Write what you see in action terms. Look at your next scene. Analyze and correct that scene and connect it to the previous one with narrative.

Yes, thinking can be a scene and so can dialogue, and remember you don’t want your characters just to be talking heads. They have to be doing things too, like a woman kissing a man, cleaning the house, and fighting a storm.

Give your readers scenes they can see, touch, hear and wonder over. Write for the senses and emotions and to mull over. Make those locations come alive. Remember that people see, move, smell, taste, and touch  their surroundings.

Break Up Monologues  

If you’re going to use a scene with a lot of thought or dialogue where either one person is thinking without interaction with someone else or multiple characters speaking back and forth, make sure the reader knows the who, where, and when of the scene. Don’t write from the aspect of a talking or thinking head for two pages. Interrupt that thought with reminders that put us in a place. Remind us why you are showing us why the character is having these thoughts, and then go back to those thoughts.

 Don’t give us only talking heads, existing independently of all else (I know, this has been discussed before, but, at this point, be sure that every one of these have been handled.)

 If you choose to throw in back story, first show us where the character is, and what brought about these deep thoughts of the past. Does the character walk around randomly thinking of the past? Does he pick up something that relates to what he’s saying? Unless your character is naturally crazy, go for something that sets him off. And don’t forget to let us know what’s happening while the character is off remembering. Ground the character—and the reader—in a place and then do your thing with deep thoughts. Include reminders of place, passage of time, and events happening while the characters talk. For instance, you could show someone smoking and the cigarette getting shorter and the speaker taking a puff.

Show Characters Interacting with Their Environment

Use description in scenes, but don’t just create descriptions. Your characters need to be interacting with their location, with other characters, and their own demons.

 Rewrite narrated scenes. Make the story events real. Force the reader to live those events with the characters, to feel their emotions, their pain and their shock!

Be sure that each scene is written from a single POV character who is experiencing this scene. If you’re using deep POV, make sure that your character’s thoughts are not betraying him.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

Click here to pick up your free copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist.


working on the third draft

When Michelangelo was asked how he was able to create such a beautiful statue when he created his Statue of David, he told him that David was already there in the rock. All he did was cut away what wasn’t part of the statue. If you have worked hard to get your second draft to the best place that you could, your book is now the point where it too is like the statue. Everything is there. All you have to do is cut away what isn’t part of your story.

In your second draft, your novel should have expanded it beyond the anticipated word count. In your third draft, it is time to start cutting out what doesn’t belong in your book and tightening your prose.

Before beginning the third draft, read through your manuscript, focusing in on what needs to be eliminated.

Cut the Chitchat

I believe that the easiest place to start editing what doesn’t belong is in your manuscript’s dialogue. It is also one of the elements that demand ruthless scrutiny. I know we have gone through this before when we were working on the second draft, but going through your dialogue again now will  

The importance of editing dialogue cannot be overstated. It is the primary interaction methods between characters. Dialogue drives attitude, enables and motivates conflict, mirrors personal development, and so much more. If you tend to be heavy on the dialogue like most people, you’ll need to ruthlessly edit your dialogue.

Remember that every piece of dialogue needs to serve the story. Every conversation must move the story forward. Look for stretches of dialogue that don’t serve the story and delete them. For instance, a conversation of a family eating dinner and setting up the sense of normality before your inciting incident occurs might seem a good idea, but does it really?

If your characters are just making chitchat that is not relevant to your story, you’d do better to remove the conversation all together or at least review it. Is it possible to re-work this dialogue so it also speaks to deeper issues? Perhaps you could use the scene to foreshadow future events or help develop a better understanding of either the protagonist or the antagonist. 

Characters Shouldn’t Always Say What They Are Thinking

Another common problem with dialogue is that when we talk in real life, we rarely say what we are really thinking. What we say rarely connects directly with our thoughts. Instead, we allude, suggest, try to persuade and negotiate, often to clumsy effect, when talking. There’s a difference there between negotiation and deceit, but we don’t tend to spill all the fine details of our thoughts or intentions.

Imagine a scene where three characters are being chased by a bear. They run across a creek and toward a large oak.

As they go, one character grabs a limb. She quickly formulates a plan in her mind.

Does she:

1. Yell. “Quick, grab my arm.”

or

2. does she shout “Here! Take my arm! I’ll pull you up after me and we can get away from that bear.”

The first option feels more natural. There’s no time for explanation. It also doesn’t give the reader further information about what the plan is once our trio reaches the alley. This character may indeed know exactly what she plans to do next, but the reader shouldn’t have this information. It’s better keep the actions in the moment and out of the character’s head.

Introducing body language is an ideal way to avoid the trap of overusing adverbs in your dialogue tags – telling the reader that someone says something “angrily” or “despondently.”

People aren’t just talking heads, so make sure to address their body language along with the words they say, and you’ll paint a much more vivid and involving picture for your reader. Body language is also useful if you find yourself editing stretches of dialogue that feel too long. The interactions and information within the dialogue may be essential to the story – and perfectly well written in terms of the inter-character chatter – but it just runs on for too long in one big block. However, as stated in an earlier post, don’t overdo the body language. Knowing when you are using enough is part of the reason that writing fiction is considered an art.

But beyond the mouth, remember to tap into the thoughts of the character.  Avoid giving too much exposition, in other words, telling, not showing.

Now is a good time to read your dialogue aloud to see if it flows natually. If you stumble over words, or everything feels too robotic—rewrite. It also helps to get into character when you’re reading your dialogue – taking on the affectations and attitude of each character to see if it too is natural. This way, you can also easily tell if your characters clearly have their own voices and aren’t blending together – or, worse, failing to differentiate themselves from your narrative voice.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST TODAY

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