Unless he sends me more (hint, hint), this is the last of the posts given to me by the fabulous Floyd Hyatt. I wish he had a web site I could recommend, but he says he’s too busy writing and critiquing to maintain a web site. Hmmmm…. Is there a lesson there for me? …Naaaaah!
Overall Visions of the Critique Process.
Second Coat of Paint, Paint, Paint…
F. A. Hyatt
Commonly, novel writers are told to get the story down on paper first, and then revise. This is, I’ll admit, only partially the way I work. Perhaps my outline was vague, or I found too many things in the world-build to explore. Maybe I am just a poor example of a writer. (I like to think every writer modifies the basics a little, so maybe I remain ‘under the curve’ of what’s average, in this respect.) In either case, I will submit chapters for critique while still working on the first draft.
I begin with a story outline or arc, and juggle my way through to the story’s end. I stay concerned mostly with line edits, but pay heed to my criticizer’s commentary on logic, cadence, and characterization. When the draft is finished, I like to try it out on a few beta readers, who tend to look more at the whole, and provide general comments. In my experience, this can take a while.
During this process, and as the reviews come back, I look at things like:
*Secondary story arcs.
Secondary arcs provide me an opportunity to deepen character development, adding interest and breadth to the story. No story should be without some of these. When going to the circus, you generally expect to see more than one elephant, clown, or high-wire artist. The concern is, that my sub-plots advance the story. I want to deepen the reader’s understanding of the character’s motivation or personality, and provide drama. When reading a book, you expect some story depth. I know that piloting my lead character along like a train on a track makes for a boring book. There need to be cracks in the arc’s roadbed. Often, this opens opportunities for interesting secondary story arcs. I layer in these, mindful of the above expectations.
*Shuffling the deck.
The logical Progression of my masterpiece might, or might not, be improved by moving some scenes around. This is a good time to try that. It’s also a good time to review the action ramping (I covered this in “The Action Ramp, Bane of New Writers” before)
*Opening hooks, titles, forwards or prefaces.
No matter what my original intentions were, I often end up rewriting or changing the opening hook, and deciding on what preface material, if any, is needed. Needed? Yes. Looking back on the full story as writ, tells me how to reinforce or highlight my opening, and how much (if any) of my first chapter should be cut, and what else needs editing to support the theme smoothly.
Cut? Yes, cut. All that glorious prose, that in the end does nothing but slow my plot down, or mislead the reader. Like a parking lot attendant, the opening points the direction my story will take, or it doesn’t. There is no better time for me to evaluate this then when the first draft manuscript is on the table. I remind myself that a lot of movie footage ends up on the cutting room floor. In writing novels,the process is the same, and part of a writer’s skill set. Hanging on to that rationale, I cut with the zeal of a butcher; hack, slice, dice and shuffle until the road is smoothed, the tarmac repaired.
*Pushing the reader
Do my chapter endings push the reader forward? Now is a good opportunity for me to hang a few cliffs, and make sure there is an unanswered question that encourages turning the page.
Another round, anyone?
The result of all this, gets me ready for a second round of line editing and beta reading. Now that the tale is reconfigured, it needs to be evaluated again. With luck, this could end as a light sanding and touch-up, though in my world, that is seldom the case. Usually, the manuscript comes back just as blue-penciled as the original draft. Meantime, several other improvements have come to mind, so usually the “final” draft needs at least another round, before a decent product comes of it.
The better you get at this process, I am told, the quicker you can get off this particular carousel. However long the ride, eventually I shoot the engineer and move on to the next project.
Thanks, Floyd! I always learn so much from you!
WRITING PROMPT: Write a character who doesn’t know when to stop tweaking something–a story, a recipe, a painting, a business presentation, a costume.