By Jodie Cain Smith
In order to create the work I want, hooking the reader from page one all the way to the captivating last page, I designed a list of questions to be asked throughout revision. Revision is a daunting task, but my questions may help you when you’ve “The End” only to realize you must begin again.
Does the opening swiftly delve into the story while immediately revealing the lead character? Does the reader feel interested in the lead character from chapter one?
What I discovered with a read of my current work is that the use of a clever device distanced the reader from the lead character. For a more impactful opening, an active reveal of the character’s personality and main problem would be more effective and draw the reader into the story. In writing the rough draft, I had forgotten the reader is investing precious leisure time in my work. I must honor that time.
Have I prolonged outcomes?
Prolonged outcomes are why a reader will read to the end. It is my responsibility to create a problem complex enough to require 300+ pages. Then, I must reveal the solution to the problem over the entirety of the work. Every chapter, every page even, must move the story forward.
If I ramble on for 150 pages before revealing my lead character’s essence or struggle, the reader will feel abused and abandon the story. Leaving breadcrumbs and personality reveals throughout the story is far more compelling than a forty-page physics lesson (Angels and Demons), fifty pages on the construction difficulties of a library in Chicago (Devil in the White City), or 100 pages on the political landscape of Oz (Wicked).
(So, yes, I may be exaggerating a bit and have read every book in the Wicked series because Gregory Maguire is a genius, but you get the point: Get to the story and make it last until the bitter end!)
Have I used an economy of words?
An economy of words in novel writing is not brevity. As I revise, I must examine every action scene to ensure that my character’s survival is all that is on the page. Short sentences and even fragments will move the character from terrifying event to death-defying feat. When running from a bear in real life, no one stops to think of the emotional impact of the bear tearing into flesh, so why would my character stop to ponder anything? She must RUN, RUN!
The same goes for annoying little pop-ups of every rough draft: overuse of dialogue tags, adverbs, lazy verbs, and passive voice. Cut or revise these in order to speed the pace. Intentional sensory phrases and energetic verbs add punch. Long, cluttered paragraphs and linking verbs (would have, begin to walk, started thinking) weaken tension and slow the pace.
What other questions do you use to set the pace of your work? Share your knowledge here. Yep, I can use all the help I can get. Like I said, revision is hard.