Sunday, December 08, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Revision-Self Editing-Tension
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 28, 2013
So we’ve messed about with our manuscript and removed the errors and tightened the prose. It reads well. Great. What about the tension? The tension in any given story should rise through each scene and each chapter. Our goal is to build tension until the story reaches the climax and then slowly fall back down until we reach the end.
How does one edit for tension? We have a simple method, but the catch is that as writers we must be honest with ourselves, or else it will never work.
First, take the manuscript and begin on page one. Read the first scene. What happens? How does it end? Is the tension increased from the scene opening until it closes or does it fall flat? On a scale of one to ten, rate the scene. “One” means it lacks tension, and “ten” means it’s awesome. If we have a scene where nothing happens to move the story forward, then that scene should score low. Let’s say the first scene is a three because, although something happens, it’s rather slow. So on a piece of paper we write 1-1-3: Chapter one, scene one, tension rating (3).
Go to the second scene and repeat the process. Do the same with the third. Let’s say we gave the second a rating of four, because it was a bit more intense than the first, and the third scene we gave a five. We have now a set of ratings of 3, 4, and 5. Not bad. The tension is slowly rising. This is good. We move onto chapter two and repeat the process. Let’s pretend both chapters contained three scenes. In chapter two the tension has dropped and scored 1, 3, and 1.
We continue reading and then rating through every chapter. When we finish reading and rating every scene, we make a graph of chapters and scenes using the scores we gave each.
Now, if we’ve been honest, we’ll see areas where the tension falls dramatically or is flat. These are the areas where we have to go in and rewrite to increase the tension. If we have three or four in a row that do nothing, then we’ve got a flat line, and a problem. To fix this we have to determine first if the scenes are necessary. If they aren’t, we rewrite to remove them. If they are, we need to insert conflict or an event that will improve the tension and push the story forward, giving our flat line a little spike upward.
It’s the plot and the characters that matter, isn’t it? Tension is part of plot. If we want to be published, we’ll make sure that everything is perfect, including the tension.
If we aren’t brutally honest while editing for tension, we’re only hurting ourselves. So be brutal. Only when we give it an honest rating can we rewrite as needed.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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