Make Every Scene Sing!

Scene-by-Scene Editing Makes A Scene Come To Life

By Jordan Rosenfeld

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.

Scene structure:

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.

Tighten tension:

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 Rosenfeld

Feb Fictionary's Choice Editing Book of the MonthJordan 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.

 

Free Training by Jordan

Jordan is teaching free Zoom-based writing workshops March 27 through April 8, 2020. First come, first served. jordanwritelife@gmail.com. Jordanrosenfeld.net

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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 trial and tell powerful stories?

Manuscript Editing: Two Editors Compared


Manuscript Editing: Two Editors Compared

Thirteen editors perform a Story Edit on the same manuscript.

Image Source: Fictionary

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.

Story Editing

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.

Copyediting

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.

Image Source: Fictionary

(1) Comma removal

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.

Story Editing: Create A Powerful Story — BookBaby Blog

Thanks to BookBaby for hosting Fictionary!

Ups and Downs of Family History V2.0

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…

via Story Editing: Create A Powerful Story — BookBaby Blog.

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Everything You Need to Know About Fiction Editing

Posted on Alliance of Independent Authors

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.

Read More…


We’re proud to announce Fictionary is now a vetted, trusted Partner Member and affiliate of Alliance for Independent Authors (ALLi).


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Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?   No credit card required unless you love StoryTeller as much as we do and decide to subscribe.

Like to learn more about StoryTeller, check out our blog StoryTeller: Creative Editing Software for Fiction Writers.

Plot Versus Story

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.

Read More…

Make the Most of Your Cast of Characters

Hi All,

Today I’m sharing a post I wrote for Fictionary that I thought might help any of you who are working on your characters.


 

Readers love to cheer for a character. Make them feel the sadness, the terror, the happiness your character feels, and you’ll keep them reading.

In a novel, giving your readers someone to cheer for and follow for 300 or so pages might make the difference between the reader dropping your book on the coffee table after chapter one and staying awake late into the night reading until the climax satisfies their need to know what happened to the character.

The Cast of Characters is the list of characters in your story.  These characters act and react. They create emotion. They show motivation. Without any of this, you don’t have a story. That’s a tall order for your characters. So how do you make sure you’re getting the most out of them?

The first thing to do is review your Cast of Characters.  This is my cast from an early version of my first novel DESCENT as shown in Fictionary StoryTeller.

Cast of Characters

 

Once you’ve written a first draft of your story, you can create a cast of characters. StoryTeller does this for you, if you’d like to try it. StoryTeller scans your manuscript on import and within seconds, creates your cast of characters.

While reviewing your cast of characters look for:

  • Character names that are too similar. There’s nothing more frustrating to a reader than if a character is killed and it’s Bill, but there’s also a Bob in the story. If the reader is left wondering which character was actually killed because the names are too similar, they might put your book down.
  • Names used for more than one character. This one may be a surprise, but it happens. Working on a novel over months or years makes it easy to forget a minor character’s name and use it again.
  • Any typos in the names. This list will help you catch typos that are hard to find when proofreading. For example: Kristina versus Kristine. Your spell checker won’t find an error, but when you see the names listed together, you can’t miss it.
  • Too many characters.

Character Names That Are Too Similar:

Review the names when listed together, and look for names that would confuse the reader by having names that are too similar.  You can see above I have Derek and Donny. These names are similar (both start with D and have two syllables), telling me I should change one of the names.

Here’s an example:

In a book I was reading, a sheriff and his young deputy are questioning an older woman and a young nurse. The deputy’s name is Molly, and the nurse’s name is Maggie. Both are young women. Both names start with M. Halfway through the scene, one character put her hand on the older woman’s shoulder. I thought, “Why would the deputy be so personal?” I had to reread and check which character touched the woman. Of course, it was the nurse.

This was frustrating. Renaming a character is an easy fix.


Names Used For More Than One Character:

Once, I gave two minor characters the same first name. One was in an early scene, and one was in a later scene. None of my beta readers nor my editor picked this up because the names were too far apart in the story, but StoryTeller did. I was glad I caught this before Imajin Books published my novel.


Typos:

Viewing your cast of characters in alphabetical order for both first and last names allows you to quickly see any typos. Here StoryTeller has shown me I’d used Ginnie and Ginny for the same person.  It’s a small detail, but one that could cause readers to drop the book.

 

Cast of Character Typo

 


Too Many Characters:

You don’t want readers to flip (or click) to previous pages to find out who a character is. Too many characters can cause this problem. Here, StoryTeller counted my characters for me. Including minor characters, there are 34 characters in DESCENT. Not bad for a 86,000 word novel.

Total cast of characters

If you’re worried there are too many characters in a scene, ask yourself if the story needs each character. It’s not your need for the character that matters, it’s the story’s. Can the plot move forward without a character? Then it’s time to cut, cut, cut. 

You can also reduce the number of characters by combining two characters into one. Can the role filled by one character be fulfilled by another? If the answer is yes, think about getting rid of the character. 

Here’s an example:

A novel I edited for one of my clients had too many characters. The main character had a best friend who had a wife and two kids. The main character also had a brother who had a wife and two kids. I suggested merging the brother and his family into the friend and his family. This meant rewriting the scenes with the brother (replacing him with the friend), but it also meant a tighter story where the reader had more time to get to know the friend and his family. The author decided to make the changes, and her story is more powerful.

The fewer characters there are, the more time there is available to develop each one and the more time a reader has to grow to love the characters.


Next we’ll cover how to look at your characters on a scene-by-scene basis.

Are you a visual learner? Watch our 1 minute  video on Cast of Characters.

If you’d like to listen to an in-depth discussion on story editing, check out Story Edit Like A Pro.


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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. Only when you master story editing, can you master storytelling.

Why not check out Fictionary’s StoryTeller free 14-day trial and tell powerful stories?

Download our free eBook, Story Editing: 15 Key Elements of Fiction To Ensure Your Story Works and learn how story editing is all about evaluating the major components of your story.

The End is Near…NaNoWriMo

Today, I’m thrilled to welcome author, Jennifer Leeper.  She’s here to motivate your through the final days of NaNoWriMo,

Jennifer has a new release, coming out tomorrow: The Poison of War. How great does this sound?

Two Mexican drug smugglers are murdered on Native American soil and the only clues left behind are two single arrowheads in this compelling page-turner of tribal secrets and distrust at the border.

When detective Frank Silva of the Tohono O’odham Nation arrived at the scene of the crime he immediately feared his investigation would require him to turn inward—to his own people—in search of the killer.

The End is Near 

THE END. These two words are a far-off promise—a mirage both figurative and literal, for many, if not most writers on day one of Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month). These two words represent the end of a 50,000- (or more) word purge that can drain away optimism, sleep and even hope, in more dire instances. 

By this last week of Nanowrimo, most writers don’t have the creative momentum they began with on November 1. The fortune-cookie wisdom and positivity floated by everyone within the Nanowrimo community during the first half of the month is deflated. In this spirit, I’m offering some end-of-the-line motivation to bathe the overworked, creative brains out there, and stoke the fires of Nanowrimo for just a few more days—or, in this case, a few more words. 

General Motivation

  • Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.
    ― William James
  • If you’re going through hell, keep going.

― Winston Churchill

  • It’s not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize, that we certainly place too much importance on. Passion ebbs and flows. To me, it’s about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you’ll be a great cook. If it’s only about passion, sometimes you’ll be good and sometimes you won’t. You’ve got to come in every day with a strong desire. With passion, if you see the first asparagus of the springtime and you become passionate about it, so much the better, but three weeks later, when you’ve seen that asparagus every day now, passions have subsided. What’s going to make you treat the asparagus the same? It’s the desire. — Thomas Keller, Interview with Mark Wilson

Writing/Nanowrimo-Specific Motivation 

  • [Writing] is like wrestling; you are wrestling with ideas and with the story. There is a lot of energy required. At the same time, it is exciting. So it is both difficult and easy. What you must accept is that your life is not going to be the same while you are writing. I have said in the kind of exaggerated manner of writers and prophets that writing, for me, is like receiving a term of imprisonment — you know that’s what you’re in for, for whatever time it takes. — Chinua Achebe, “The Art of Fiction, No. 139,” The Paris Review

Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. — Al Kennedy

  • Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes. — Rose Tremain
  • If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient. — Hilary Mantel

As for me, I’ve never conquered the beast called Nanowrimo, but I keep those two words I mentioned earlier at the forefront of my imagination each November. I hope you push on toward November 30th, even if you stumble away in defeat, short of your I targeted word count. I hope you’ll return next November and do it all over again, because it’s never been the word count that really counts. 


 

You can find Jennifer Leeper’s latest work, THE POISON OF WAR, a southwestern crime/mystery  here, or visit www.thepoisonofwar.com to follow her ongoing writing journey. 

 

Who is Jennifer Leeper?

 

Ms. Leeper is an award-winning fiction author whose previous or forthcoming publications credits include Independent Ink MagazineThe Stone HoboPoiesisEvery Day FictionAphelion WebzineHeater Magazine, Cowboy JamboreeThe New EngagementAlaska Quarterly Review, Falling Star Magazine and The Liguorian. She has had works published by J. Burrage Publications, Hen House Press, Inwood Indiana Press, Alternating Current Press, Barking Rain Press, Whispering Prairie Press, Prensa Press and Spider Road Press.

In 2012, Ms. Leeper was awarded the Catoctin Mountain Artist-in-Residency, and in 2013, Ms. Leeper was a Tuscany Prize Novella Award finalist through Tuscany Press for her short novel, Tribe. Ms. Leeper’s short story Tatau was published in the journal, Poiesis, and was short listed as a finalist for the Luminaire Award in 2015, and nominated by Alternating Current for Queen’s Ferry Press’ Best of Small Fictions of 2016 Prize. In 2016, The Saturday Evening Post honored Ms. Leeper’s short story Book of the Dead with an honorable mention in its Great American Fiction Contest.

Ms. Leeper’s short story The Bottle won second place in the Spider’s Web Flash Fiction Prize through Spider Road Press.