Here’s another rewriting pass that you can do. We’ve talked about re-carding after you finish a draft and are about to start rewriting - sometimes it’s amazing how much your initial outline has changed. Re-carding will help you get a grasp on the story you’ve actually told (as opposed to the one you thought you were telling).
For example, the reveals that came out in the writing process might not be what you were expecting at all. Even the villain may have changed – I hear from authors all the time about that happening. Sometimes we hide that stuff from ourselves so that we can write from the protagonist’s perspective of innocence, and figure it out and be just as surprised as they are as they go along.
Well, paying close attention to your sequences – as they are really playing out, now - is another great way to get a grasp on the story that you’ve actually told, and also a fantastic trick of pacing.
I’ve never tried to explain this before, but I think the only way to get it is to actually do it. Read through the first sequence of your book (or script) and look at the beginning, middle and end of just that sequence. What is being set up in the sequence? Why are we drawn into it? What is the climax: what startling/interesting/appalling thing happens in it, what do we learn, that makes it imperative that we follow this story? Does it build to a climax? Is the climax genre-specific – an action scene in an action story, a spooky or scary scene in a horror story, a sexy scene in a romance, a puzzle in a mystery? How does whatever happens propel the action into the second sequence and make it vital that the protagonist make the next move?
Then work through the book doing that with every sequence. (I know, I know, I should just shut up already. But I swear, once you get over the cursing and throwing things, this REALLY WORKS).
I sometimes don’t get to this sequence pass until my fourth or fifth pass through (“pass through” is a much gentler term than “draft”, don’t you think? Less intimidating.). But it is always a sign that I’m on the home stretch. A sequence pass is a sure way to identify the places that just aren’t working yet. If you’re in the middle of reading a sequence and you suddenly find that you want to do anything but finish reading it – like, for example, clean the bathroom or do your taxes – then you know that sequence has a problem. And looking at the problem just in terms of what the SEQUENCE is doing, and how that sequence has to set up the next sequence, rather than in context of the whole book, will almost always give you the answer of what’s going wrong.
If nothing else, I really encourage you to look at the sequences just in terms of the sequence climaxes. This is an astonishing way to improve the pacing and suspense of a book or script (and I mean suspense in ANY genre – the “What happens next?” factor). You will often find that the real climax of a sequence is happening in the middle of a chapter, and a little rearranging (like ending the chapter on that climax) will give that scene a punch that was just lacking, before. The break of starting a new chapter will give the reader that breath to consider all the implications of what just happened.
Also always remember to consider the emotional impact that that new revelation has on your protagonist (and other characters). Once they’ve absorbed the shock of what they just learned, what are they going to have to do next? It's pretty embarrassing, really, how often I find that I have written blithely on without stopping to consider how a revelation would impact my protagonist, emotionally. Defining and bringing out those emotions not only makes the story deeper, it can lead to actions that make much more sense for the protagonist to be taking next.
Also, steal the screenwriting trick of a BIG SET CHANGE or BIG LOCATION CHANGE between sequences. You don't literally have to change locations, always, but thinking about the beginning of the next sequence as a set change or a location change and then writing it that way will propel your reader or audience into the next sequence, making them feel like the story has moved to a whole new level. How can you visually and thematically show this change? (Look at what Harry Potter and Raiders of the Lost Ark do with changing locations - even time, place, weather, season - to move into a new sequence...)
And of course, always remind yourself what genre you’re working in and ask yourself if there’s anything you can do to make that climax more comedic, more suspenseful, more spine-tingling, more romantic - so you’re always delivering on the promise of your genre.
I know this is abstract, but is it making any sense at all?
How To Write A Novel From Start To Finish: previous posts
How to write a novel from start to finish (part one)
What is genre?
What's your premise?
The Price (more on premise)
What is High Concept?
The Dream Journal
Three-Act Structure Review and Assignments
The Three-Act, Eight-Sequence Structure
The Index Card Method and Story Structure Grid
Elements of Act One
Story Elements Checklist for brainstorming Index Cards
What KIND Of Story Is It?
Elements of Act Two, Part 1
Plants and Payoffs
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (part 1)
What's the PLAN?
Plan, Central Question, Central Action (Part 3)
Elements of Act II, Part 2
The Lover Makes A Stand (romantic comedy structure
Elements of Act Three (part 1)
What Makes A Great Climax? (Elements of Act III, part 2)
Elements of Act III, part 2: Elevate Your Ending
What KIND of story is it? (and other notes about Inception)
More Rewriting: The Subplot Pass
Screenwriting Tricks For Authors
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