Great stories, just like any large structure, are built of many smaller parts, known as scenes. So what is a scene?
I guarantee that even if you’re unclear on the elements of scene making, you’ll recognize when you’re reading one intuitively: Scenes invigorate and enliven dry narrative. They put characters into compelling action and powerful dialogue. They use sensory detail to bring the reader viscerally inside the characters’ lived experiences and reveal setting. Scenes wake stories out of slumber.
Scenes, in a nutshell, are the moments of a character’s experience written with such clarity of detail that the reader feels as though they are living it, not just reading it.
While I’m a big believer in letting yourself write mediocre scenes in order to get the first draft written, it’s helpful to know how to revise your scenes later to bring them to life.
Make Every Scene Sing
Here are some suggestions for scene-by-scene editing to make sure they really sing:
Focus on the action:
The hallmark of a scene is action, often called momentum—that beat-by-beat energy that creates a feeling of real time passing, plus dramatic action—the “what happens” of the scene that reveals new plot information and creates consequences for your character.
So always ask: Are my characters moving through space and time in acts and words, and, is there something significant that happens in this scene? (And does it create a consequence or sequel for the next scene?). Scenes without action aren’t scenes at all—they’re often long passages of narrative summary, loops of internal monologue or passive descriptions of setting without character interaction. On that note, have characters think less and do more.
New plot information:
Ask yourself, what does the reader/character learn in this scene that they didn’t already know? A new clue to the plot? A new piece of character information? A who, what, where, when or why? If you can’t pinpoint one, you know one thing your scene is missing.
Active character discovery:
Is your character actively involved in the new pieces of plot information? Do they discover, uncover, learn, reveal, seek, find, chase, call, etc? If the information is coming to them passively, the scene will feel too easy and the climax unearned.
How are you using dialogue?
Are you writing “conversation’s greatest hits” (thank you Jessica Page Morrell, from Between the Lines)? Avoid mundane pleasantries and discussions about food, weather and giving directions. Dialogue should be stylized and strategic, used to reveal character and develop plot. Try not to rely too heavily on it, either, so that you’re using it as an info-dump rather than letting characters discover plot elements in action.
Are you saturating setting?
If you find yourself writing the kind of setting descriptions that could run in an Architectural Digest article, you’re probably boring the reader with too much summary. Make sure you reveal setting as the character interacts with it. Just enough to ground the reader in the scene, but not to the point of overkill.
Scenes, like the novels they comprise, have a design. A launch, a middle, and an ending. They should launch with new action or continuation of a prior scene’s cliffhanger; they should build, through obstacle and challenge, to a high point—epiphany, danger, discovery—and then end in a way that creates a consequence for the character to tend to in the next scene.
Lastly, ask yourself if your scenes deliver a sense of urgency and intrigue, conflict and danger, suspense or withholding—that’s the stuff of tension, which creates page-turnability. Without tension, things happen too easily, people are too nice, too beautiful, too successful without any challenge. When tension is in place, characters must struggle with everything from their own internal flaws to their antagonists to dangers and conflicts thrust at them from many angles.
While there are many more aspects to editing your own scenes, follow these seven guidelines for stronger scenes that build a powerful story.
Jordan is author of the suspense novels Women in Red, Forged in Grace and Night Oracle as well as the writing guides How to Write a Page Turner; Writing the Intimate Character; Writing Deep Scenes; A Writer’s Guide to Persistence; the bestselling Make a Scene: Crafting a Powerful Story One Scene at a Time, and Write Free: Attracting the Creative Life.
She is also a freelance writer and editor. Her articles and essays have appeared in such publications as The Atlantic, The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, Salon.com, Scientific American, the Washington Post, The Writer, Writer’s Digest and many more.
StoryTeller is creative editing software for fiction writers. Transform your story, not just your words. Successful stories depend on your ability to edit, improve, and revise your work with scene-by-scene editing. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.
StoryTeller gives you a method to perform scene-by-scene editing. Use it to apply Jordan’s advice to your story and you’ll edit faster and with higher quality.
Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trialand tell powerful stories?
Thirteen editors perform a Story Edit on the same manuscript.
We’re going to share the results, so editors and writers can learn from the experience.
Fictionary’s series on manuscript editing is just beginning. The goal of this series is for writers to know what they’re buying and for editors to know what to offer as part of their editing service.
First, we’ll review a scene where two editors performed a copyedit as part of a Story Edit.
As a quick refresher, a Story Edit, also called a structural, developmental, or substantive edit, is the primary structural review of your manuscript and the story you’re telling.
Story Editing is your big-picture approach to preparing for publishing. It’s your first structural revision. This is when you rework your characters, plot, and settings to ensure the story line and narrative flow smoothly while every scene contributes to the story’s purpose.
Story Editing means looking at the characters and asking why each one is in the story. It means looking for patterns, finding emotion, evaluating the structure of scenes, structuring chapters and word count. It means testing the setting against the plot, and so on.
After you’ve finished a Story Edit, copyediting is the most essential and fundamental preparation you need before publishing.
A basic copyedit includes checking your grammar, spelling, and punctuation for accuracy; ensuring consistency in your writing, word choices, style and compositional spacing; and eliminating jargon and repetitious words. It’s your last edit before formatting and proceeding to proofreading and publishing.
Two Story Edits Performed by Two Editors on the Same Manuscript
Both editors worked on a story where a writer requested a Story Edit and not a copyedit.
Editor 1 recommended removing the comma after the word “grief” in the following sentence.
Death was there along with sadness and grief, but the real problem was the gathering of people.
The sentence is made up of two independent clauses joined by a co-ordinating conjunction. Therefore, the comma is required. The advice to remove the comma is incorrect.
The sentence could be written as two sentences and still be grammatically correct.
Death was there along with sadness and grief. The real problem was the gathering of people.
(2) Deleted sentence
Editor 1 has used the track changes functionality to delete the sentence “Too many people.”. The first problem is there is no explanation why this is being recommended. The second problem is this is a sentence level style recommendation. This type of recommendation should be given during a copyedit and not a Story Edit.
(3) & (4) “Unfamiliar” versus “not familiar”
Both editors recommended changing “not familiar” to “unfamiliar”. It’s the same advice, but Editor 2 explains why they recommended the change. The more informative advice will teach the writer how to improve their style and show them what to look for when they eventually perform a copyedit.
Know What You Need
Imagine you’re a writer who has paid for a Story Edit. Are you going to be happy with copyedit changes that are incorrect or come with little explanation? Probably not.
Sometimes a copyedit can give the impression a lot of work was done. That may be true, but it’s the wrong work at this phase of the editing journey. Both the writer and the editor may feel productive, but spending time on style changes before the story is strong can waste time.
I’ve only shown you a small portion of the Story Edit to illustrate different styles editors have.
My assessment based on the edit of the full manuscript is that Editor 1 is a copyeditor who is working outside their area of expertize or comfort zone by taking on a Story Editing job. Editor 2 performed minimal copyediting during the Story Edit, and when they copyedited, they gave the writer an explanation of why they recommended changes.
As a writer, you need to be clear on what you want from an editor. If your knowledge of grammar is strong, having changes recommended without an explanation may be perfect for you, so you can accept or reject changes quickly. If grammar is not your thing, and you’re learning as you write, then you’ll want an editor who gives explanations.
Knowing what you need as a writer will help you choose an editor who is a good fit.
Knowing what a writer needs from you as an editor will help you deliver exceptional edits.
Post Written by Kristina Stanley.
Combining her degree in computer mathematics with her success as a bestselling, award-winning author and fiction editor, Kristina Stanley is the creator and CEO of Fictionary.co — creative editing software for fiction writers and editors. She is a Fictionary Certified Story Coach and a Story Editing Advisor to the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Her novels include The Stone Mountain mystery series and Look the Other Way. She’s the author of The Author’s Guide to Selling Book to Non-Bookstores. She’s a passionate guide-dog trainer and hiker.
By BookBaby author Kristina Stanley Editing a manuscript is a big undertaking, both intellectually and emotionally. It takes time and being thorough can be difficult, but the creative story editing process always pays off. Getting your novel ready for publication is an exciting journey, and part of getting ready is performing a story edit on…
Getting your first book edited can be an overwhelming experience. There’s different types of editors, huge swings in price ranges and that’s all before you receive the feedback itself. ALLi partner member and CEO of Fictionary.co Kristina Stanley, is here to explain everything you need to know about fiction editing.
Why is Fiction Editing so Complicated?
Let’s start with the terms. Substantive, developmental, structural, line, copyedit, proofread. Lost yet? When I started as an author, I researched these terms to figure out what they meant. Now that I’m a fiction editor, I want to uncomplicate this for you.
When Lisa at ProWritingAid.com asked me to write about plot versus story, I thought no problem. I’m a story expert. However, once I started researching the topic, I realized there is a lot of conflicting information out there.
I also realized a discussion about plot and story would be incomplete if we didn’t mention structure. Understanding the difference between plot, structure, and story is important because knowing the difference and how they affect your writing process can help you tell a powerful story.
I reached out to my friends at BookBaby and asked for a present for you as we head into the holiday season.
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As we head into Black Friday and Cyber Monday for 2019, there are some great deals for writers. I think there will be something on this list that will help you become a better, more successful writer.
Of course, Fictionary is offering an amazing deal on Fictionary StoryTeller, along with deals on other writing & editing software, writing courses, & publishing tools from our friends in the writing community.
Note: A few of the links above are affiliate links, which means I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. Others are just deals that we thought were awesome!
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