Top Ten Changes to Improve My Novel

Let me say, I initially just gave myself deadlines to force myself into writing the chapters, to put the words on the paper, and to complete the story. While I accomplished that goal, I lost something in exchange. I didn’t dwell on sentences, or word choice, or vivid characterizations like I used to when I just focused on scenes that would give me no rest until I ripped them from my head and put them on paper. So instead of just typing up edits, I feel like there will be a lot more rewriting. It will take more time but render a better final product.

So without any more excuses, I present to you the “Top Ten Changes to Improve My Novel”:

Choose Strong Verbs

“Be” verbs, “get”, and passive voice are the enemy. Rewrite to eliminate them forever! And while it is third person limited, I don’t need to add that one character observes another character doing something to explain it. I need to find the simplest way and the most intense verbs to detail the happenings of the story. When you are in a rush, you tend to just fall back on more cliched ways of saying a thing, rather than taking the time to find interesting ways to say a thing.

Fluctuate Sentences

Simple, Complex, Compound, Complex Compound. I just wrote sentences the first time around. This time I really want to make sure they are varied, like the flow and ebb of music, so together they created beats that match the mood of the scenes.

Deploy Dynamic Dialog

I need to accept that I will never be Joss Whedon. But if he is a god, do you think if I prayed hard enough to him he could bestow me with good, unique dialog that while realistic, still furthers the plot for all of the hundreds of characters running around in my brain?

Lose the Alliteration and Lyrics

This is one of my biggest flaws. I love alliterating multiple times within a sentence, and I tend to do so without realizing. I also tend to add song lyrics that just fit the scene. Despite my love for them, they must go.

Round off my Characters

It seems my main characters have something to hide from me. One character is hiding her physical description which I honestly haven’t pinned down mentally. For the teenage girl, her personality fluctuates a lot, and I don’t think I can always write it off as rebellion and hormones. My third just falls off the map for the last third of the book, and I’m just not sure I’m okay with that.

Control all the Feels

So if you couldn’t tell from looking at the list above, I listen to music while I write. As a side effect, I let the music take me away. Scenes I intend to be reflective become lively and vice versa because of the music I am listening to at the time. This time around, I need to be in charge of steering the feel of the scene.

Balance on the iceberg

One problem I encountered through the entire writing process was balancing out who knows what when. I have multiple characters hiding things. Some secrets are for that character alone, between two characters and not a third, or just not mentioned because I am actively keeping these from my audience. While it’s good to leave readers out to the extent that I know they will come back to learn more about what I am not telling them, I wonder what the story would be like if I let them in on the secrets, so it’s between me and the audience and we leave my characters out.

Find the Right Pace

I have a few major events through out the novel, and they don’t fit Freytag’s neat “intro, rising action, climax, falling action, wrap up” model. I do want to build up to one moment in particular, but reading it over, I had better builds for some of the other events. Even when viewed altogether, they don’t feel like a cohesive story. The novel feels episodic which could be a hold over from the fact that I originally conceived of this series like a television show, with multiple episodes, each book covering a season. I need to either work out the episodic issues I am having, or play them up and try to make it work in a singular story.

Dress the Set

So my story is set inside a very interesting building, and I want to figure out a better way to address that setup. I know it inside and out (yes I have hand drawn blue prints for every floor), but I want to find a better spot to introduce the description of the location, as well as being able to make sure the readers don’t get bored hearing about a building. I feel like most readers won’t sit through a five page description of a building, unless there is some ridiculously awesome story attached.

Start at the Beginning

I’m sure this isn’t the last thing that needs attention, but this is the last major thing. I hope. The beginning is always the hardest part to write, but for me it’s knowing exactly where to begin the story. I’ve heard a lot of writers write their story and chop a lot of beginning chapters, but for me I wonder if I didn’t start early enough. As my editor pointed out, people don’t get a chance to like or care about my main character before I throw her into danger. While a cold open works well for television and movies, not so much in books. Harry gets a chance to tell us about life with the Dursleys before he discovers he is a wizard just like we spend some time with Frodo and Bilbo in the Shire before they go on their respective journeys. Maybe I need to start with the status quo for my first book, instead of attempting something I’m not sure how to execute well.

I think the reason I like to start in this one scene is because it was my first scene. I’ve changed character names, I’ve massively changed the story line two or three times, I’ve changed the format it’s told in, and I’ve created a few decades worth of history that my characters are dealing with, but through all of that, this opening scene has never been omitted or moved. It’s as vital a catalyst to the characters for the actions in the story as it was for me to write this story. It could be a case of not wanting to “kill my darlings”, but it’s not just some tiny, fluffy scene that I can do without. My inner writer will fight my inner editor for the inclusion of this scene, which means a lot of rewriting and work in my future.

Right now, I’ve caved a little and moved it further into the story to allow for more of the much needed character background. I just don’t know how much character and status quo description will be too much. I know things that happened 14 years before this story started, but I know at least enough to know that my story doesn’t start then. Finding the end of the story was a breeze, now if I could only get my hands on the beginning, I’d really start to feel this story take shape. Especially because I know that the open will make or break this novel when it’s sitting on someone else’s desk.

I know that this list is mostly for me and my writing, but it’s good to keep lists. We writers need to be constantly reflecting on ourselves and our writing in order to become stronger writers and better story tellers. This list is just one step on the quest to one day have a business card that reads “Master Storyteller” under my name. 🙂

–M

Want more to read on editing your own work? May I recommend:

  • Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style,  also known as my writing bible.
  • Hodges’ Harbrace Handbook, if you need/like textbook definitions.
  • David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction, which gives examples from great writing and discusses tactics.
  • Right now I’m in my first reading of Jack Smith’s Write and Revise for Publication. I’ll be sure to let you know what I think of that when I am finished. I know it’s already spawned some questions and answers for my edits, and I’m only 40 pages in!
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2 Comments

Filed under Editing

2 responses to “Top Ten Changes to Improve My Novel

  1. My gut instinct is that you shouldn’t start earlier. Or at least, get a reader you haven”t talked to much about the novel’s plot/characters, and get them to read it first before you start with backstory.

    Most of the time the advice to novelists is to write all the backstory out, then consider that the story actually begins at chapter 3 and cut accordingly.

    I once said that most of my characters could walk into a brick wall and you’d never notice it in the story, so I get trying to go back and put in the character description and prop interaction. Is there anyone in the characters that would be likely to fidget or fiddle with something in the room, or pace around and take up a lot of physical space? That’s a way to insert some of the details of the scenery without having to do the infodump.

    And I’ve gotten to the point where I mentally cast all my characters with actors/actresses, especially if I’ve scent the actor/actress in something so I know some of the physical body language or tics to describe.

  2. Pingback: Promises to Your 12-year-old Self | M. L. Trumbull

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