Revision Tip #5 & love from Missouri

This one might seem obvious on the surface, but writers are very good at rationalizing and can come up with all kinds of logical-sounding reasons why they should ignore it.

Three words.

What. Happens. Next.

Stories are supposed to flow like a river, not remain still while your character treads water neck-deep in a pool of exposition. One of the fun things about revising is figuring out how to make the story move forward while slipping in those little bits of backstory that contribute to the reader’s understanding of the character.

For me this often winds up being a pacing issue.

Yesterday I was working on a chapter that had three scenes in it. Scene #1 transitioned from the previous chapter. Scene #2 was rather lengthy, but interesting, I thought, even though the main character was mostly observing the action around him, and that action (while based on fascinating historical evidence) only had a little to do with the larger Story of my character. Scene #3 was short short, because I blathered on so long in Scene #2.

The first option was to break off Scene #3 into its own chapter. I tried that, but it didn’t work. The chapter that was weighed down with Scene #2 was a big snore. I tried cutting out Scene #2 completely. Nope, that didn’t work either – the reader and character need to see what happens in it.

Just before I went to bed I figured out how to fix it. I’m going to trim back Scene #2 and add one element that has an emotional connection to my character. That will make the first half of this chapter move swiftly (I hope) and build the tension leading up to Scene #3. In that last scene, I’ll have the room to craft both the external and internal conflicts, and lay the groundwork for the transition to the next chapter.

Does that make any sense? Neil Gaiman mentioned this concept in a more elegant style (sigh) on his blog yesterday. (Scroll down to his response to the first reader’s question.)

Emily wrote asking when I was going to publish a book about the writing process.

Answer: As soon as my publisher asks me to. That’s why all these revision tips are wrapped up in fifty layers of copyright protection and guarded by my dog. (But if you are a teacher, feel free to use them in your classroom.)

In other news. TWISTED is a nominee for the Missouri Gateway Reader’s Award (along with two other books that Superintendent Daniel Freeman of Montgomery County School District in KY feels are not suitable in his high school: DEADLINE, by Chris Crutcher, and UNWIND, by Neal Shusterman). The Gateway Award is aimed at high school readers.

Missouri extended even more love my way by nominating CHAINS to Truman Award list (sorry, don’t have a link yet). This one is for middle school/junior high readers.

Thank you, Missouri!