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Four ways to revise scenes

So much of writing is actually revising. Whether you’re writing a poem, science fiction novel, essay, memoir or short story, writing and rewriting is where you fully discover your story and add emotional meaning and depth to your work. Revision is where you have epiphanies about your characters, see new themes, find ways to add symbolism and more. Author Anne Lamott illustrated this idea when she said:

“When I was a young writer, I was talking to an old painter one day about how he came to paint his canvases. He said that he never knew what the completed picture would look like, but he could usually see one quadrant. So he’d make a stab at capturing what he saw on the canvas of his mind, and when it turned out not to be even remotely what he’d imagined, he’d paint it over with white. And each time he figured out what the painting wasn’t, he was one step closer to finding out what it was.”

Whether you plot and plan out your book before you type the first word or just dive right in, you’ll find rewriting a necessary part of the writing process as you figure out what your “completed picture” looks like. The elements below can serve as a mini checklist or starting point as you work through scene revisions.

1. Does each scene advance the story? Does it fall in logical order in the manuscript? Great scenes have many elements that work together to make them effective. Look at each scene big picture. You may even find you don’t need every scene and you can use summary instead. What is the function of each scene? Does it connect to your story’s overarching themes? Does it live up to its promise?

2. Check the tension level. Interestingly, slowing down action in a scene sometimes has a way of amping the energy and suspense. You may need to slow down and write out some scenes in more detail. Conversely, check to see if you’ve overwritten your scene by digressing or offering too much detail.  For example, if you’re moving a character from one place to another, you don’t need to explain how they opened the door, went down the sidewalk and got in their car. Finding the right balance of conflict and detail creates tension in your story.

3. How do your characters change? Each scene should peak and characters should come out changed on the other side. What belief, need, or desire does your protagonist feel that will drive the “pulse” of the scene as events play out?

4. Review your scenes for sensory details. Using all the senses helps you show instead of tell your story, and in turn help readers enter the story world you’re creating.

Coming up: More manuscript revision strategies. Until then, what techniques have you used to revise your drafts?


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