Scenes: 5 Simple Questions for Revision

My WIP is a draft of a novel that I”m going through and expanding. When I read through the draft it felt like a very long treatment, a long synopsis. Scenes weren’t detailed, emotions were nebulous.

As I do this, there are questions that are helping me revise each scene.

  1. What is my character fighting for? I’m trying to pinpoint in each scene what is at stake. For many scenes, it’s something small, just getting another to agree or getting something to eat. But usually, I can dig deeper into the relationship and start to figure out why this is the right scene to dramatize: because something in the relationship is at stake.

  2. What is the moment just before? I want some emotional baggage to carry over from scene to scene. If my main character (MC) is angry at the end of the last scene, how will that affect the new events. What questions and emotions linger that could come into play here? Can I escalate or de-escalate the emotions?
  3. What is the humor? I’m acutely aware that I have a weak funny bone. Instead, I go more for irony. OK. I’m trying to play up that irony in every situation I can. If you’re naturally funny, you want humor even in the most tragic scene. Why? Because it adds depth when you can make a reader laugh and cry at the same time.
  4. What is the importance? Why are these events important to the story? I try to make this clear; I try to raise the stakes; I try to embue every action with a sense of urgency; I try to add passion to the dialogue, letting my characters take sides and argue about something they deeply care about.
  5. What is discovered? Surprise–it delights readers. I try not to hold back secrets. Orson Scott Card has said the only thing you withhold from your readers is what happens next. Let the reader in on the character’s hopes, dreams and secrets; but don’t foreshadow too much. Story openings like this are common:

    It was to be the strangest day of my life.

    I know you’ll find famous books with similar openings. But they don’t work for me because as a reader, I want to find out events as they happen. I don’t want a character/narrator to filter events for me by declaring the coming events as strange. Instead, I’d rather experience them myself and decide myself. I like surprise. At least in fiction.

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