Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #1 RUE

For the next few posts, I wanted to go through the Ten-Point Revision Strategy, point by point, try and highlight some basic concepts and throw the whole thing open to discussion. This is my strategy, created out of need to make my novel better, but that doesn't mean it's the only strategy or necessarily complete. I'm open to amending it, changing it, rearranging it. Whatever. The goal is simply to write the best fiction we can.

So once again, here's my current strategy, the one I'll be implementing as soon as I finish this post. (I'm on chapter 8 of the current re-write, by the way. I'll keep you posted of that progress also.) I want to emphasize that this applies most to the writing of thrillers and similar works, where story movement is key. Writer's of literary fiction may have different guidelines.

I write about this as much to help anyone who can benefit from all that I've learned as to help myself. By going through this strategy (or any other lesson) point-by-point, I help to cement that knowledge deeper into my own brain. Perhaps, if I cement it deep enough, it will finally stick.

So then, here's our first point.

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy

1) Remove unnecessary exposition - RUE (resist urge to explain) - keep them guessing

Show don't tell

Know each character's motivation

4) Tighten dialogue - no direct answers

5) End chapter earlier - cut last paragraph

6) Kill adverbs

7) Tighten words

8) Describe through movement

Shorten as tension increases

Move story forward

Today's lesson is simple: RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain.

Write those letters on a piece of paper and tape it near your writing place. I have it in big letters, taped to my printer. RUE. Resist the Urge to Explain.

Nothing can kill a story faster than the author's perceived need to explain the story, or a character, or a motivation. Even a scientific point. The exposition literally stops the story in its tracks while the author jumps in. "In order to understand this, first let me explain why Jeff behaves this way. You see, as a child . . blah, blah, blah."

Don't do it. Writer's call this the dreaded Info Dump. Character backstory, character personality sketch. Scientific information.

What you need to do is show this information, not tell it. Create a way to show your character is a bitch, don't tell us she was mean to her friends in eighth grade. Show us the scientific process, describing it as it's happening. Don't simply drop a paragraph of stuff at us.

Sometimes, the best way to do this is through action or dialog. Other times, it helps to put the information you need to express into a character's thoughts. But briefly. We really don't soliloquize about this stuff.

Always the best way to present information is in the context of the story, with the story moving forward.

This is an area I need to work on. As a doctor, Professor and Lecturer, I'm used to explaining things. Writing scientific/medical fiction, the urge is to tell them the history of my science. Who did what, when, to try and establish scientific credibility. When what I need to do, is tell the story. Drop in the necessary facts, but show the science as it's happening. This makes it real. This makes it interesting.

Resist the Urge to Explain. RUE. Memorize it. It works.


Anonymous said...

A great set of rules. I've used some of them, but never in such a neat, orderly fashion. I'm writing my third novel,and like you, have 100,000 words as my limit on this one( Hard to find readers who have the energy to go beyond).

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