Introducing Write Better Fiction- Give Yourself Feedback On Your Manuscript
Feedback is an important part of the writing process. There are some elements of your novel you’ll need human feedback for, but there are others you can analyze on your own. Today, I’m kicking off a series called WRITE BETTER FICTION. Every Wednesday, I’ll post on the topic of self-critiquing.
Whether you’re a panster or a plotter, the thrilling moment will arrive when you’ve written a first draft.
Are you ready for beta readers to see your work for the first time?
How do you know when it’s time for an editor and a proofreader?
Are you thinking of hitting the publish button?
If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to share your writing with anyone until you’ve done your best to perfect it. Maybe you’ve read hundreds of writing books, maybe you’ve taken courses and information is spinning in your head, but how do you keep track of the knowledge and ensure you’re using what you’ve learned? With a spreadsheet, of course.
A novel is made of of scenes, and scenes are made up of elements. Over the years, I’ve created a spreadsheet, and every time I learned about a scene element, I added that element to my spreadsheet.
My spreadsheet consists of 65 columns. That may seem like a lot, but each element needs to be considered if you’re writing a scene for maximum reader engagement.
To make analyzing easier, I’ve broken the spreadsheet into three categories.
To quote James Scott Bell in his book, PLOT & STRUCTURE, he says,“Plot happens.” To me that means it’s the action of the story. So every element not included under CHARACTER or SETTING is grouped under PLOT.
Each of these categories has a set of elements, meaning when I work on a scene I can work on more than one element at a time. Over the next 65 weeks or so, I’m going to explain how I use each element in the spreadsheet to strengthen scenes, and thereby strengthen the novel. Hence this is the first in a series of blogs I’ll tag, “Write Better Fiction.”
WHERE TO START WHEN THERE ARE 65 CHOICES
Once I have a completed draft, I look at the most important element of each category. Today I’ll start with PLOT.
The first element under PLOT I evaluate is the purpose of the scene. The purpose of the scene must relate to the overall story. If it’s not driving the story forward, then ask yourself what is the point of including the scene in your novel.
Here are some examples of the way the purpose of a scene can drive the story forward. You can choose one of these to define your purpose or come up with your own definitions.
- Is the inciting incident
- Introduces characters
- Creates an emotional connection between characters and reader
- Provides character development
- Establishes setting
- Introduces or intensifies conflict
- Builds suspense
- Establishes mood
- Reveals a clue
- Shows a red herring
- Is the climax
- Provides resolution
HOW PURPOSE OF A SCENE HELPS WITH THE OTHER ELEMENTS
I articulate the purpose of the scene first, so I can address other elements of the scene and test if they are in line with the purpose.
Let’s say you fill out the list of objects in a scene. You can weigh the objects against the purpose of the scene and see if there is a way to use them to further the purpose. This goes for revelations, tension, conflict, weather, etc. Basically, every scene element can be tested against the scene purpose.
After you whittle down the purpose of a scene to a few words, one of three things will happen.
- You’ve got the purpose nailed, and you understand why this scene is included in your novel.
- You have a weak purpose, but there is still some value in the scene.
- You have no idea what the purpose is.
If you landed on number 1, give yourself a gold star and move on to the next scene.
Number 2: consider rewriting the scene, keeping the parts in the scene that further the plot. Or take the important bits and place them in another scene which has a strong purpose. You could also take two scenes with a weak purpose and combine them into one scene to create stronger purpose.
Number 3: consider removing the scene. We all end of with scenes that seemed relevant when we wrote them, but might not work within the novel as a whole. However, don’t delete the scene. Remember to store it somewhere. You’re next novel might have a place for it.
WHAT I DON’T USE THE SPREADSHEET FOR
I don’t use my spreadsheet to evaluate voice, dialogue, balance, style, consistency, etc. For that, I think another human is the best source for feedback.
Using a spreadsheet to force yourself to critique your own writing and give yourself feedback will enable you to write better fiction.
Next week I’ll share with you the #1 question to ask yourself about CHARACTER.
Please comment below and let me know what you think of the advice. Do you agree, disagree or do something different for the purpose of a scene? Do you group elements of a scene in a different way?
Thanks for reading…