Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about the importance of Writing with Emotion. This week, we’re stepping back and looking at the Big Picture.
One thing this MYC series has taught me over the last few weeks is that there is no one way to write a book. Each of us Pennies has our own individual approach to getting the words on the page and then making those words sing once they’re there.
My revision process consists of several passes through the manuscript, each time looking for different things I need to fix. And one of my first passes involves looking at the Big Picture.
Usually, this involves reading through the entire novel making notes about each chapter, how the tension is building, how the plot unfolds, where it drags, and how the characters’ emotional journeys are playing out — your basic quick-read, impressionist take on the overall story.
I’ve used a few different methods to tackle this pass. Once I printed my manuscript and put it in a three-ring binder, using tabs to mark the chapter breaks (Ooooh, the office supplies I bought!). I made notes right there on the manuscript itself.
Other times, I have read onscreen while taking notes in a special notebook purchased just for that novel. And with my current WIP, I’m saving trees by using the note feature in Scrivener.
Once I’ve got my Big Picture sense of what’s working – and what’s not – about my first draft, the fun starts.
So what are some of the things I look for during the Big Picture editing phase?
- The first thing I usually notice is when scenes or chapters are in the wrong place. As I read through my current WIP, it was clear to me that a conversation that happened midway through the book really needed to come earlier – too much of the later action stemmed from that conversation. And I don’t think I’ve ever written anything where I started drafting from the exact right place. This time I found my opening about four chapters in.
- Reading through after a good break is a great way to see plot holes that I swear were not there when I drafted. For me, since I write short drafts, it’s usually a matter of having skimmed over a key scene or difficult conversation. By coming at it with fresh eyes and reading all at once, I usually catch those spots.
- I often have spots in a first draft where I make a note to myself: “Fight scene TK” or “Double check this character’s last name”. The Big Picture round of edits is a great time to fill in those blanks and confirm the facts I didn’t want to stop my flow to look up in drafting stage.
- I also use my Big Picture read to find errors in continuity. That time I accidentally changed a character’s name for a chapter? A scene that started at the coffee shop but ended at the beach with no transportation or acknowledgement of a change of venue? Or that backstory detail I dropped in chapter one and then never referred to again? These are easy fixes that make a huge difference in readability.
- The Big Picture edit is a great time to spot pacing problems. Are there a couple of chapters where nothing seems to happen? Maybe it’s time to condense those events into one concise scene. Or does my emotional climax feel rushed? Time to give that pivotal scene all the love it needs. (And if you have more questions on pacing, check out our previous MYC post!)
- One of the biggest things I look for in my Big Picture Edit is the emotional progression of my characters. Are the main characters changed at the end? Did that change happen in an organic way, or is it forced? Do their feelings evolve in a way that is understandable? I want my characters and their emotional journey to drive the story forward, so I pay close attention to this at every stage of revision. (And if you’re looking for more nitty gritty information on writing emotion, see last week’s MYC post.)
Each of these areas will likely get another pass later in my editing process — there’s always room to refine them! But my Big Picture Edit is essential for me to really understand the story I am trying to tell and how I can best tell it.
However and whenever you take a look at the Big Picture, try to enjoy it! After all, you’ve completed a manuscript! And now you get the fun of shining it until it sparkles!
Now that the Big Picture is taken care of, it’s time for some fine-tuning. Tune in to next week’s #WPMYC post where we look at perfecting dialogue!
RICHELLE MORGAN writes, works, plays and drinks too much coffee in Portland, Oregon. When not writing fiction for young adults and children, she pens fundraising letters and other marketing copy for progressive nonprofit organizations. Richelle keeps an occasional blog about nonprofit marketing and communication. She has also written feature articles for The Oregonian, and her short fiction has appeared in Voicecatcher. You can find her on Twitter.