Archive

book editing


Kill a line, kill a scene, kill a character. Whatever it takes to improve your novel.

As writers, you have may already heard of the phrase ‘kill your darlings,’ and you may even already be well-versed with its meaning.

However, some writers may not have come across this piece of advice, and it is one that has been handed out to writers for many, many generations so I’ll catch up those who don’t know. William Faulkner, an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi,  originated the phrase ‘in writing you must kill all your darlings.’

What does “Kill Your Darlings” Mean? 

In writing, to killing one’s darlings means getting rid of the things you love the most. That line in your book that you think makes it seem unique and powerful and strange, that scene that you feel really expresses the essence of what your work is about, the accent that you have given your main character that you believe really helps your readers see into their soul…

Yes, those are your darlings.

So why do we have to get rid of them?

Don’t go too overboard with “killing your darlings”. Do it wisely and sparingly.  If you were to hit ‘delete’ on all the best bits of your book, the chances are you’ll end up with gaping holes in your story and, actually, some of the best bits should almost certainly stay.

However, you do need to let go of aspects your writing you are holding onto selfishly. In other words, those aspects of your work that are more about you and less about the story. Those words, side plots, characters or turns of phrase that you personally love but, actually, if you are being truthful, don’t really advance your story in any way.

You might, for example, have thought of a killer line that just perfectly sums up an emotion or scene, it might have come to you in the middle of the night and you might have written it down with such excitement you couldn’t wait to get it into your story the next day.

However, when you tried there just wasn’t a place for it, you wanted to make it fit, but it didn’t. It couldn’t work.

Don’t force something no matter how much you love it. If it is not meant to be in your current story simply save it for the next one, and then let it go.  It takes real maturity for you as an author to let them go.

Kill off Loveable Characters

The same goes for characters who are not going anywhere, ones who don’t belong, or ones who you love fiercely and are so proud of creating. However, these have no part to play in your story.

You find yourself giving them too much attention and neglecting your other characters or bending the plot to fit their way of thinking and point of view.

Killing off characters that you know your reader will love can be a dramatic and useful strategy too. This device is used by Agatha Christie, who often kills off well-liked characters in her novels, because the reader doesn’t expect it. It is surprising and heart-breaking, it makes us invest even more in the story. I did this in the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry with characters that the readers loved from When God Turned His Head. They didn’t belong in Soldiers, and their demise furthered the plots of later books in the series as well. It was a win-win for everyone in The Locket Saga except, of course, those characters.

Place Story before Ego

Can you do it? Of course, you can. It creates personal growth for you as a writer. It takes effort and self-discipline to kill your darlings. But remember, you are not writing your book for you. In fact, it has very little to do with you at all.

Anything that distracts or takes away from your story needs to be shut down. Your aim is to keep your readers immersed and engaged in the world you have created, so don’t let anything divert you or them from this goal.

The sooner you become a ruthless writer and identify and kill your darlings, the easier and more painless it will become.

You don’t have to get rid of them completely. Just take them out and put them somewhere else, in a notebook or a file of ideas – then you never know when one of them might just flourish back to life. Pat yourself on the back for unselfishly putting the story before your ego.

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. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


I don’t know if a writer exists who hasn’t heard the phrase “show it, don’t tell it!” Just in case one exists, I will tell you that it means that it is important to let the characters do the doing rather than allowing the narrator to tell what happens. One of the principle ways that we can show rather than tell is to write our scenes using active rather than passive voice.

The difference between Active Voice and Passive Voice

In English grammar, verbs have five properties: voice, mood, tense, person, and number; here, we are concerned with voice. The two grammatical voices are active and passive.

Active voice basically refers to a sentence that has a subject that acts upon its verb. We’ll explain this in a minute.

Passive voice, on the other hand, means that a subject is a recipient of a verb’s action. You may have learned that the passive voice is weak and incorrect, but it isn’t that simple as we will see later in this article. When used correctly and in moderation, the passive voice is fine. However, you’ll do well to eliminate most of the passive voice in your novel.  

Identifying Active Voice

When the subject of a sentence performs the verb’s action, we say that the sentence is in the active voice. Sentences in the active voice have a strong, direct, and clear tone. Here is an example:

The cat ate her food.

This sentence has a basic active voice construction: subject, verb, and (sometimes) an object. The subject “cat” performs the action described by at. The subject performs the action described by closed. The subjects are always doing. They take action.

What is Passive Voice?

A sentence is in the passive voice, on the other hand, when the subject is acted on by the verb. The passive voice is always constructed with a conjugated form of to be plus the verb’s past participle. Doing this usually generates a preposition as well. That sounds much more complicated than it is, because passivity is actually quite easy to detect. For these next examples of passive voice, we will transform the three active sentences above to illustrate the difference.

“The cat played with the yarn.” is active voice, but “The food was eaten by the cat.” is passive voice.

The active sentence consists of the subject, the verb and the object. The passive sentence consists of the object plus a form of to be plus the past participle of the verb and a preposition in each of these cases “by” Making the sentence passive flipped the structure and necessitated the preposition “by”.

Which Is Better? Active Voice or Passive Voice?

There is no question that using the active voice conveys the stronger, clearer tone. Here’s some good advice: don’t use the passive voice just because you think it sounds more sophisticated than the active voice.

However, times do exist when the passive voice is preferred. For instance, Their car was hit by a train. That sentence construction is helpful because their car is the focus of the writing, not the train.

A good rule of thumb is to try to put the majority of your sentences in the active voice. This is especially true action-packed novels.

Tips to Recognize the Passive Voice

Sometimes a sentence in passive voice doesn’t necessarily sound “wrong” or wordy. Sometimes passive voice is the best choice. However, consider writing in active voice whenever possible.

Recognizing Passive Voice

To recognize that a sentence is in passive voice, watch out for these keywords:

A

Are

Be

Being

By

Has been

Have been

Is

Was

Were

Will be

How to Change Voice from Passive to Active

To change passive voice to active voice, you need to recognize the sentence’s subject and then rewrite the sentence, so the subject is performing the action.

Let’s use the following example to understand how to change passive voice to active voice:

The repairs were made by the best carpenter in town.

We can recognize that this sentence is in passive voice because the passive keyword “was” is used. Also, it’s not initially clear who or what the sentence is about.

To change the sentence from passive to active:

Step 1: Identify the subject of the sentence – who is doing an action? The payment is not doing the action, so it can’t be the subject. The only person or thing doing an action here is everyone. Everyone paid. So, everyone is the subject of the sentence.

Step 2- Rewrite the sentence so the subject is performing the action. This sentence could be rewritten to active voice as follows:

The best carpenter in town made the repairs.

This rewrite makes it immediately clear to the reader who is doing what. The subject is doing the action.

When Using Passive Voice May Be the Better Choice

In most cases, writing sentences in passive voice is discouraged, because it can obscure the subject of the sentence and confuse the reader. It also creates a wordy and awkward sentence structure.

As suggested above, use passive voice when a paragraph actually flows better using passive voice rather than active voice. However, if you can express the same idea using an active verb, you should do so. In the same token, don’t mix active and passive structures in the same sentence. If one clause is in the passive voice, the other, too, should also be in the passive voice. Once you learn how to change passive voice to active voice, it’s one less thing you’ll have to edit. However, there are cases when passive voice is preferred.

The passive voice is used when we want to draw attention to the person or thing that was affected by the action of the subject.

For instance, if someone were to ask, “Who killed that bear?” The answer would be “That bear was killed by Robert.”

Here the focus is on a specific bear.

In addition, the passive voice is also preferred in cases where the doer is not important.

The log homes were built around 1800.

Here the focus is on the log homes and not on the person(s) who built them, and therefore we prefer the passive voice.

Practice Changing Passive to Active Voice

Although passive voice is occasionally useful and sometimes preferred because it offers a deflection from knowing the subject of the sentence, passive-voice verbs put the emphasis on the recipient of the action, not the doer of the action. This kind of deflection can sometimes be useful, but strong sentences require active constructions. Passive-voice sentences are also wordier than more concise active voice versions. Therefore, unless you have a specific reason for using passive voice, always convert such verb constructions into active ones.

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. 

 FREE EDITING CHECKLIST WITH SUBSCRIPTION TO THIS BLOG


At this point, you have written and rewritten your novel at least three times. You should be able to read your novel should readable and without any obvious glitches, but it would still behoove you to read your manuscript at this time to see how well the entire story reads.

You should find that you have scenes showing realistic locations with well-developed characters who show great action have relevant dialogue. However, a read through at this point will allow you to find some areas within the story line that doesn’t exactly fit.

These sorts of errors might not be found when you’re working scene by scene, but I wanted to mention that various problems can be found simply by reading the book through. These errors are not technical in nature, but rather come from other content problems that you may have, so far, missed in the editing process.

Is Your Timing Right?

You may be juggling POV characters in different locations. If these characters need to get to the same location, have you allowed for the time for this to occur. Checking timing is important. When your characters are dealing movement, between scenes, timing has to be possible.

Can things happen the way you claim they happened for your characters?

Is your Factual Information Accurate?

If you’re writing historical fiction, or including technical information as part of your story line, is your factual information correct? Often a google search is all you need to verify that your historical or technical information is correct.

Are there any details that your reader is unlikely to understand you can better define? For instance, in Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, Elizabeth used a peel. In the book I showed through Elizabeth’s actions that this tool was used to slide under bread and used it pull the bread out of the oven.

Are your characters and Settings Consistent?

Examine the interactions between the characters. Is there any place where one of the characters seem out of character? Are each of the character’s attributes consistent (or changes readily explained) throughout the story?  

Are character attributes consistent throughout your story? Are location details consistent? You don’t want to say that in chapter two a character has blue eyes and then in chapter eight, that same character has green eyes. Likewise, you wouldn’t want to say that a given location was treeless and then later say that same location was covered with trees. In the same token, you wouldn’t want to say that a house has two bedrooms early in the story and then later say that three characters each had a separate room in the same house.

POV Revisited

Look for scenes that you may have missed earlier that are out of character’s POV and fix them. Look for areas of magical thinking where a character seems to know exactly what another character is thinking. Use body language or some other sensory form gives the character’s thoughts more credibility.

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. 

Get Your Free Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist, Click Here!


What is Line Editing?

Line editing is a stage in the editing process in which a manuscript is edited for tone, style, and consistency. This stage of editing is extremely important for documents of all types and lengths, and a good line editing is a crucial in the manuscript editing process. Here are a few dos and don’ts to line editing.

DO Take another read through. If you find any minor (hopefully not major) discrepancies in your manuscript fix these before moving on in line editing.

DO before looking at lines, review and analyze your key scenes. Does each scene carry the aspect of the story that it is supposed to carry? If not, what does it still need?

DO, if you find discrepancies during line editing, fix those before continuing the line editing.

DO Look through other that may appear wooden but are necessary to the story. Is this scene really necessary?  Use the same treatment as you used for the key scenes. Have we seen aspects of this scene before?  Is this entire scene redundant or is it just certain elements of the scene? Unless we are doing a reprise technique where we purposely use certain elements for impact, eliminate redundant scenes, passages, and aspects of conversations that you may have missed previously.

DO evaluate transitions between scenes. Are they adequate? Are they too wordy?

DO read each paragraph out loud. Does the paragraph flow naturally?

DO insure that each character remains in character throughout the book.

DO eliminate words or sentences that are extraneous or overused

DO edit scenes where the action is confusing or the author’s meaning is unclear due to bad transitions

DO eliminate redundancies of  information repeated in different ways

DO unify tonal shifts and rewrite unnatural phrasing

DO eliminate or rewrite passages that don’t read well due to bland language use

DO create changes that can be made to improve the pacing of a passage

DO evaluate words or phrases to determine if they are the best words to use. Reassess and clarify if a better word can enhance your meaning.

DO take frequent breaks when doing line editing. If you have a deadline, work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. For better efficiency, every two hours take a thirty-minute break. I personally get so much more done when I take frequent breaks by using the breaks for personal care and housework.

DO try to work on line editing at least a little every day rather than trying to block out large periods.

DO editing from front of manuscript to the back and do it in order to avoid missing any parts of the manuscript.

DON’T let run-on sentences remain in the manuscript, edit them.

DON’T give a pass to dialogue or paragraphs that can be tightened

DON’T leave in confusing narrative digressions

DON’T line edit too early in the writing process, you’ll just be wasting your time.

DON’T skip this part of the process and leave it for an editor to do. You’ll have a much better book (and your next one will be better as well) if do your own line editing.  

DON’T try to do too much at one sitting. You’ll produce better copy if you are rested.

DON’T procrastinate this step, the end of the tunnel is in sight! Don’t stop now!

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 Now to Get Your Free Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist


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


In fiction, pacing refers to how quickly or how slowly the action of the story unfolds. Pacing is important because it helps to keep the reader interested and maintains a desired atmosphere and tone of your story. A suspense thriller shouldn’t move at a crawl, just as a romance move too quickly. In an earlier post, I discussed some of the aspects of pacing as it relates to dialogue, this time we are discussing other techniques used to speed up or slow down pace.

As you write your novel, you will need to plan the rise and fall of your novel’s plot and action. Taking time to outline your novel can help with pacing because you can see at a glance where there is concentrated actions or events and where movement should be slower. Sometimes your action might be too slow, and you need to speed it up at other times, you might need to spread out the face-paced moments of peril and adventure and include a few pages where the reader and characters can catch their breath (and possibly add a little humor).

The Act You’re in Determines Your Scene’s Pace

Your novel pacing should be determined by the type of Scene you’ve constructed. In addition, certain things will be happening in your novel at specific times or acts. For instance, if you are using the three-act structure, there is an opening, middle and end to the story. In first act, you’ll introduce readers to the main conflict and main characters. The second act is where you develop that conflict and help the reader understand why it came about and how it is affecting your characters. The Third act brings the conflict to a head and brings resolution.

Each of these sections of your novel will have different pacing. The first act usually doesn’t dawdle and take its time hooking the reader into the story. In the second act you can push and pull pacing more. If in the first act your protagonist (main character) is struggling with a desire to fall in love, the middle act can show him slowly giving in to (or overcoming) this urge. There can be moments of calm and moments of high tension.

In the third act, though, the pace usually increases as tension builds. The cracks have started to show in your main character’s personal life – he can no longer keep her love for the other person a secret. The stakes increase and the reader wants to know how it will all end.

To make the pace move at the correct speed in each of these larger structural units, think about the purpose of each act. If you want to grip the reader, use conflicts and move your characters from scene to scene creating a sense of momentum. However, if you want to give the reader some respite before the major climax, you can slow your story pacing and lessen the conflict and tension for a while.

Hone Your Pacing Skills

Hone your book’s pacing by reading the thrillers and spy novels. Even if they aren’t your preferred genre, read bestsellers who have mastered pacing. This will help you to understand how to make your plot ebb and flow engrossingly.

Make notes as you read on pace. Note elements such as:

  • Any time reference in the book
  • The number of pages in each chapter
  • Why you think short chapters are short and what effect they have on momentum.

Sentence Structure—A Simple Strategy to Speed up and Slow Down Pace

Use sentence structure to manipulate your novel’s pacing. Pacing in writing is affected by sentence length. Think about it. You’re reading this faster. There are fewer words. The sentences are simpler. When you want the reader to feel events are coming to an important climax, shorter sentences can be effective.

Shorter sentences keep the pace moving by not losing action in lengthy sentences and detailed descriptions. Of course, you could also keep your writing descriptive until the conversation starts and then alter the pace, to create sudden tension. These are the choices you will need to make regarding sentence structure: Where will the story start to move? Where will characters sit back and admire the scenery? How will you bring it all together into one cohesive story?

Slow your story’s pace with focus shifts and put detail into longer chapters.

Vary Pace

Seldom does a novel hurtle along without the occasional strategic pause that allows your characters and your readers to gather their wits. There are several ways to slow down your story in strategic places. You can reduce the pace of a story by shifting focus to a secondary subplot for a while to take the heat off your main story line. One way to do this is by writing longer chapters and by being more generous with extra descriptive details. Also, you might want to have fewer things happen per location or scene.

A great novel has some scenes that hurtle along while others dawdle and meander. It has balance. Some genres have more of the hurtling (such as thrillers) while others more of the dawdling (many character-driven dramas and romances). Whatever type of novel you’re working on, getting pacing in writing right will keep readers entertained and committed to finishing your book.

Pacing Techniques

Pacing manipulates time. The elements of time delineated in your story or screenplay include the time of day or period; scene versus summary; flashback; and foreshadowing. The novel’s elements of time tell us when the story is being told as compared to when the events of the story took place. What is that distance? When does the story begin? When does it end? What narrative strategies do you convey to convey that sense of time?

As we’ve said in previous posts, scenes are the building blocks of all fiction. In order to have a crisis moment, scenes indicate a moment in time and are not summarized. A summary covers a longer period of time in a shorter passage. A scene covers a short period of time in a longer passage. What could take only a few seconds in real time might be covered in paragraphs, even pages, depending upon the writer and the event.

Instead of summarizing a scene, try to picture them in your head as though they were happening on a movie screen. Sometimes, when you are writing a first draft, you might summarize an event, but the scene is how you dramatize the action. You must learn to balance the scenes and use the exposition gracefully.

As I have said in other posts, every scene should have some form of conflict, even if it is just in the mind of the POV character. Just as in a story you have conflict, crisis and resolution, each scene should have a similar shape. Move your story forward using scenes that specific important behavior of your characters. Transitions of time or location that is secondary to the plot can be expressed in a narrative bridge that summarizes otherwise boring events. (If your character is taking a train trip across the country, but no significant events occur in that train trip, simply go to the next event by saying something like, ‘Nancy took a train to her destination and met her friends at a local café.”

Summarize secondary Dialogue

Dialogue that is secondary can similarly be summarized. So, if you find dialogue that expresses information that is fairly routine or not too interesting, you should summarize it. For instance if your character is sharing information that was shared before, but want the receiving character’s reaction (and it is significant to the story) you can write something like, ‘Joe told Julie about his pay raise. Julie could now start planning their wedding.’

 For example, to avoid boring dialogue when exchanging greetings. Simply say they exchanged greetings.

Challenging Pacing Techniques

If there is a scene that you are having trouble with, especially one that provides a turning point in the story, focus in on that scene. Could it use action, not necessarily physical action, but movement, change? Expand that scene and explore the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. Dramatize and see how the balance of power in the scene changes.

Setting incorporates place, but you also have to consider the time of the year, the time of day and how you reveal this information without being too obvious. This information is not always essential but depends upon your story. Basically, you’re ‘establishing shot’.  Just remember to be consistent and to make the timing logical. It might be boring to mention ‘in the morning,’ but you could use other words to show time of day. However, don’t skip this time element altogether since it adds facts about the characters and their surroundings. If a family is having supper, then we know the time of day. If a character is wearing shorts, this establishes the time of year.

Handling Flashbacks

Flashbacks provide emphasis and balance within a novel. It’s possible they may be used to enrich the narrative, and you might want to rearrange the chronology of your story during your editing process using this technique.

A flashback is a narrative passage that takes us back into the past of when the story is set.  I personally usually write the first draft in chronological order, including everything in order that they occurred for the character, but often, I cut out earlier scenes put them in flashback to create a better flow of events in the story.

A flashback slows down the pace of the story. The flashback reveals something about the character that we didn’t know before that explains things by showing not telling. You should use it when the character is going into a situation that varies from the behavior that we have come to expect from him or her. However, you need to be sure that the flashback you have selected tells us something relevant to the story. There’s nothing worse than slowing down the action with a flashback that doesn’t contribute to the story.

You might use a flashback if, in the present of the story, the character has an unexpected reaction to an event (like Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes) , and you want to provide an explanation for their behavior.

Beware of using flashbacks as a way to avoid conflict you want to emphasize tension and anxiety in your novel, not limit it.   

A question that is always asked is about how to construct a flashback. The mechanics of the flashback technique can be difficult to manipulate and may create cumbersome verb constructions. To prevent this, keep the transition into the flashback as simple as possible. If you are writing the story in the past tense, you can begin the flashback in past perfect. You can use ‘had’ plus the verb a couple of times. Then you can switch to the simple past.

You don’t always have to use a flashback to include past events in your story. Instead of flashback, you might use dialogue, narration or some detail to give the required information. Also, remember the power of inference. There may be more going on in the background of a character than you reveal in the actual prose. Be economical with your words. Imply what you can about the character or situation without being obvious. Flashback reveals information at the right time, but it may not be part of the central action. Flashback is an effective technique to show the reader more about character and theme.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is another technique that plays with narrative time and slow down the forward movement of the action. It is not actual conflict, but the promise of conflict. The technique of foreshadowing promises that things go from bad to worse. One way to foreshadow is to place something early in the book that makes a conflict or resolution seem realistic at the end. A question comes up later in the story that can be answered later. Foreshadowing can be used to get the reader through a section of a narrative. For example, you could create suspense by something that will happen:

For instance, what happened in the massacre at the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, not only impacts the end of Soldiers, but it also creates a foreshadowing the entire premise of A Coward’s Solace. Because of this event, those other two events make sense to the reader.  If the story questions are strong, then your reader will stay interested in the narrative.

Of course, you need to use this technique judiciously. You can employ the minor characters to foreshadow the actions of the major characters, for example. If you make a promise by foreshadowing, then make sure to fulfill the promise; otherwise, the reader will tell you about it in their reviews!

With foreshadowing, it might be better to err on the obvious side because if your attempts are too subtle, there will be no shadows to see.

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. 

FOR YOUR FREE EDITING CHECKLIST CLICK HERE

%d bloggers like this: