Every writer has to find what works for him. I was on a writing panel a while ago, and one of the authors said that he always works on three projects at a time, because when he gets bored with one and runs out of ideas, he can pick up the next story until the first one tugs him back. Another friend of mine always rotates between two novels. Me, I’m a one-at-a- time type writer. I might start a new story while I let a draft sit, to let it “cool” and gain some objectivity before I polish it, but I don’t jump back and forth between chapters and scenes. Come to think of it, though, I can’t multi-task all that well either. Just saying….
My friends and I have different approaches to rewrites too. Paula writes these deep, layered, power house scenes, then does rewrites to connect them. Two of my friends think BIG and words flow from their fingertips. They use rewrites to cut and shape “too much” into order. I tend to write sparely–if I get the basics of the scene right, I’m happy. My rewrites are adding all of the things I didn’t put in the first time around. Don’t get me wrong. I still think about word choice–did I use the exact word I needed where I needed it?–and verb choice–did I use active instead of passive? I look at grammar and sequence, but those are the basics. After those, I hit the things I’ve been known to overlook.
Did I set the scene? And I don’t mean does the reader know where my characters are standing or sitting. I want the reader to feel like he’s standing there too. I want him to be able to picture the room he’s in or the field he’s crossing. I want him to squint his eyes because the sun’s too bright and inhale the scent of crisp air and freshly turned earth. If my character’s cooking, I want my reader to smell onions sauteeing and the spices on the sizzling meat. Not every scene, of course, but enough that my reader is grounded in place.
Did I deliver emotion? Tension? By this, I mean–why is this scene important to my POV character? It’s not enough to just have things happening in my story. Those things have to impact my character. Why does she care? What difference does it make? To do this, I often use internal dialogue or deep POV. So many times, I look at a scene and everything’s right, but it just doesn’t work. It should–important things are happening, but it’s flat. Then I know that it’s not what’s there, it’s what’s NOT there that’s tripping me up. And that’s almost always my character’s emotions. What does she think about what’s happening around her? Does it make her happy, sad, or frustrated? What’s her take on it? That’s when internal dialogue can make a scene significant.
And finally, for me and my rewrites, I check my story for transitions. Did I jump from one place to another too abruptly? Did I leave out a scene that would add to the story? And lastly, the dreaded “show, don’t tell.” Did I gloss over something, tell the reader what happened, when I could let him experience it along with my character?
This is my list of things I look for when I rewrite a story. They’re things I know I tend to rush over or forget on my first draft of getting things on paper. Each author has his own style and habits, so I thought I’d add a link that probably gives better information than mine on critiquing (for me, that includes how I critique my own stories to make them stronger).
When I first started writing, I dreaded rewrites. Now, I recognize them as the difference between a good story and a great one. I hope this link gives you even more ideas to make your stories better: http://www.crayne.com/howcrit.html