2nd Draft- Stuck in Existing Scenes

Dragonlady

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I'm trying to redraft my novel, and I am finding things to improve, and aware of some larger issues that need working on/resolving. I'm finding, though, it's really easy to get stuck improving current scenes rather than questioning whether they're the right ones. If I know they're adding to the story, I find I have no real way of working out if they're what the story needs just there. While this is the second time I've finished a work of this sort of length, I have never satisfactorily redrafted before.
For background, I'm more of a pantser, and while I've created outlines as part of my redrafting and used notes and things, I generally do idea generation, character work and world building by writing bits of prose that likely won't end up in the finished story- by actually writing, if you like.

One technique I have found helpful in redrafting a scene is to write a bit from the POV of the other character in the scene, so I can see it from the other side, for example, and would love to hear what has worked for other people. It lfeels like this, rather than the initial putting words on paper, is where I am going to learn to really write, but a lot of the time it feels like I can't see the wood for the trees, and struggle with how to fill the gap between the very serviceable words on the page, and what I know the story can grow into if I know where to prune.
 

Jo Zebedee

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blah - flags. So many flags.
This is what beta readers and editors are for, but, also, to paraphrase John Jarrold: every scene, every paragraph, every chapter, every line should have a purpose. If it doesn't, cull it. Then, look for places where two elements fill the same purpose, and decide which stays. And then, ask yourself if there are any of them that could be combined into other scenes.

And then put it in a drawer, go work on something else, and come back with lovely fresh eyes. ;)
 

HareBrain

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I'm finding, though, it's really easy to get stuck improving current scenes rather than questioning whether they're the right ones. If I know they're adding to the story, I find I have no real way of working out if they're what the story needs just there.

But what makes you think there might be a better, wholly different scene, assuming that nothing stands out about the current one as being unsatisfactory? If there's a general niggling feeling that something is wrong, then there might well be -- I've wasted many, many hours trying to polish out deep cracks, and have learned to ditch a scene or dialogue much more readily when that niggle strikes. But conversely, beware the tendency to think that there must be something flawed about it simply because it was written by you.

Either way, as Jo says, this kind of thing is where distance can help, either another perspective from a good beta reader, or some time away from it.
 

Wayne Mack

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I have found it helpful to create a table listing every chapter and having a short description of what happens in the chapter. The first time, i created the table after the fact, but after that, I create it as I go. and lately, I have started writing the summary before writing the chapter or section within a chapter. I find this helps to identify the overall flow and anything that seems out of place or less relevant stands out. I also include a column for chapter word count. Although sometimes chapters deserve to be much longer or shorter than average, those that vary too much are often a good place to focus some editing attention.
 

Dragonlady

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Thanks all! @HareBrain it's more that I have a feeling the overall thing could be improved, but it's hard to see where to actually add/cut to do that, if that makes any sense. Perhaps I'll make a copy of it and be a bit brutal and see what happens.
 

msstice

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I'm trying to redraft my novel, and I am finding things to improve, and aware of some larger issues that need working on/resolving. I'm finding, though, it's really easy to get stuck improving current scenes rather than questioning whether they're the right ones. If I know they're adding to the story, I find I have no real way of working out if they're what the story needs just there. While this is the second time I've finished a work of this sort of length, I have never satisfactorily redrafted before.
Different people work differently but if you have already identified this process as an issue you could try what I am trying
1. Put down the pen (figuratively)
2. Read through the whole work.
3. Make only high level notes for what needs reworking

I too have the strongest urges to rewrite at the sentence level when rereading but also realize strategy should come before tactics.

For background, I'm more of a pantser, and while I've created outlines as part of my redrafting and used notes and things, I generally do idea generation, character work and world building by writing bits of prose that likely won't end up in the finished story- by actually writing, if you like.

One technique I have found helpful in redrafting a scene is to write a bit from the POV of the other character in the scene, so I can see it from the other side, for example, and would love to hear what has worked for other people. It lfeels like this, rather than the initial putting words on paper, is where I am going to learn to really write, but a lot of the time it feels like I can't see the wood for the trees, and struggle with how to fill the gap between the very serviceable words on the page, and what I know the story can grow into if I know where to prune.
That's a cool idea and I think worth doing unless you are trying to be uber-efficient.

For me when I reread I get more into the shoes of all my characters and I become more intuitive in determining how the characters will react to the situations and of course when I reread I internalize the story better, so I can start to see where there is wonkiness in the plot and flow.
 

sknox

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I sympathize. It's very hard to know how to improve when you don't yet have a strong sense of your own judgment. It does come with practice, but that's more like book four or five, which isn't much help for book two!

What's needed or not needed? What is moving the story and what isn't? Is this infodump or good background? Am I handling the pacing well? The list is long and it doesn't get shorter. *sigh*

Your process sounds similar to my own. I plan, outline, then wander away, come back, make new outlines, press forward, wander off, and so on. I, too, develop character, setting, block out scenes, etc. largely by writing stuff, some of which actually makes it into the novel. I'm sure there are even more inefficient ways to write a novel, but I seem to have hit on a good one. I have yet to finish a book in less than a year.

But my confidence has improved--I'll not yet claim my judgment has, but at least I'm learning to know when I can leave something alone and when I shouldn't. I try to start with the places where I'm most confident. Early on, these were primarily mechanical things; more recently, I've had some confidence about more subjective aspects.

For example, early on I would look at chapter length. I could look at word counts per chapter and see if there were any really obvious outliers. If a chapter was twice the length of others, I would look more critically at it. Was it too wordy? Was it really two chapters? Did the scenes belong just there?

I could look at consistency and continuity. The easy stuff was descriptions of people and places and objects, but lately it's also been character voice. Main characters, but also secondary characters with colorful or interesting phrasing. Since that sort of stuff comes mostly on the fly, it's easy for me to have a character shift tone across the story. Happily, it's also fairly easy to look for.

And so on. I call it clearing out the underbrush--the stuff that will distract me or catch my eye on a revision, and takes time to fix. If I can get that stuff out of the way, I can concentrate more readily on the obscure, the foggy, the niggling. And always I break down the novel into the four pillars: plot, character, setting, and theme. Pacing is also important, but I still struggle with that one. I struggle with plenty, but that's an important one.

Now I type it out loud, I guess another concrete thing to do is to start your own list of your own "known knowns"--those things you know how to spot and know how to fix, and as much as possible those things you know you ought to spot but maybe don't know how yet. Try breaking things down into manageable items. Only when you know what to fix can you set about learning how to fix.

Oh, and there's this
Never mind the 31 days angle. Janice Hardy has some excellent guides here. I haven't followed everything, but It really helped me be aware of what I *could* consider during revision.
 

Steve Harrison

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I used to get overwhelmed when editing/revising a novel, so these days I do major revisions while I'm writing, which highlights many of the issues in transit, so to speak.

Then, when the draft is completed, I break up my major edits into targeted tasks. I perform an edit solely looking at plot, another for structure, one, for pacing, one for each of the major characters, one for dialogue etc, then several overall edits.

It took a lot of practice to ignore everything except the 'theme' of a particular edit, but once I got the hang of it I was amazed how fixing one aspect corrected or highlighted another or made solutions in the other edits much more obvious. The WIP edits generally pick up any major structural problems, so these targeted edits really tighten and sharpen the novel prior to handing it to my trusty readers.
 

tinkerdan

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A big question to ask is--What are you redrafting the work for--better yet who are you redrafting the work for.
Just recently re reading something Heinlein wrote about writing--to paraphrase--he said once you finish leave the thing alone and keep submitting it until you find the right venue that wants it.

I recently redrafted my first novel to fix some issues and see what happened when I split the 600 page work into three novels.
This brought me to the same place you seem to be and I had to look back and see if my redraft made the scene shorter or longer and why.

Making it better doesn't always mean making it leaner and making it lean doesn't always make it better--but there is a way to make it work by keeping yourself under control.

If you must get in there and ram around then you should try to make sure you fix all those grammar problem and that means you have to find them all--and they are there dancing and partying under your nose as you blissfully ignore them and go on, because you know what you meant to write despite what the page has on it and the brain knows how to fix that before you are aware.

In other words--when you get done playing under the hood you need to take it to a mechanic(editor) to fix-it.
 

Teresa Edgerton

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Sometimes I find that the problem is not with the scene I am having trouble with, but with something in another scene that I am trying to make this one fit with. The other scene—either much earlier in the story or much later—is the one that needs to be fixed, but since I like it, I had never allowed myself to consider what it does to the rest of the book.

For instance, I've been agonizing, literally for years, over some early chapters in the WIP, to find ways to better make them reflect a statement that one of the main characters says much later in the book. It's one line, and it has stalled me all this time. It has only recently occurred to me that I could change that one line of dialogue and all would be well.
 

therapist

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I've just started my own first revision process. I'm very daunted by it. One thing I found useful was to export my book into my kindle and read it through there. Not only did it prevent me from getting distracted by editing lines, it forced me to read it as I would any other book. Leaving me with a clear idea of what chapters misfired and what chapters worked.
 

Astro Pen

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There is a subtle element to be aware of if you start pruning, which is taking the plot forward vs. taking the story forward.
A novel is, I would hope, more than a mechanism for plot delivery, it is an art form. Creating a vivid sense place, a vibe, call it what you will.
I would certainly look for passages that are out of stylistic texture with the rest of the book.
Even big names do it. The Leo Auffmann 'Happiness Machine' section in Bradbury's Dandelion Wine really grates against the rest of the book. I would have removed it to make for a slightly thinner but more cohesive book.

I have one I am wrestling with myself. It is a highly technical description in an otherwise far more humanistic story. It has to be rewritten retaining that info, but softening it down without losing critical technicality is proving the very devil. The twist being that whilst the protagonist is not interested in technology, technology is very interested in him.

Look out above all for any passages that sprawl. A segue into childhood memories for example. We may well need to know them, as the roots of a character's reluctance to do something, but it is easy to divert into a three page schooldays reverie. Keep off piste excursions brief.
 

Dragonlady

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@Astro Pen that's a good distinctin. I think waffle is one of the few things that aren't wrong at the moment, and if anything, adding in more descriptions and texture is something that I will do at some part of the editing process. That doesn't mean all of the scenes/passages are relevant to the story or plot though.
@tinkerdan I suspect it doesn't need to be leaner overall, just with the words in different places. I'm very much editing it for me, it doesn't fit neatly on an existing genre shelf but is a mashing together of several things with unconventional story elements which really doesn't make it easier, but does make it what it is. Having a draft down I have a much better idea of what the story is trying to be. Some arcs are distinctly un arc like at the moment for example, and need some sort of panel beating.
@Steve Harrison I have a feeling I started doing this and got distracted, picking more things up along the way, but it may be for the best. I've started doing some outlining work to look at the structure, and from there I can make a list of other passes that will be needed.
 

Steve Harrison

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@Steve Harrison I have a feeling I started doing this and got distracted, picking more things up along the way, but it may be for the best. I've started doing some outlining work to look at the structure, and from there I can make a list of other passes that will be needed.
It can be hard to focus on the specific edit and become a rabbit hole! Things do jump out which are outside each edit brief, so I highlight them in passing for the applicable edit later.
 

therapist

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I perform an edit solely looking at plot, another for structure, one, for pacing, one for each of the major characters, one for dialogue etc, then several overall edits.
This feels like great advice. Is that the order you do it in? Also, do you ever try and pick out a theme and make sure your characters and scenes are relating to that theme?
 

Steve Harrison

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This feels like great advice. Is that the order you do it in? Also, do you ever try and pick out a theme and make sure your characters and scenes are relating to that theme?
I start with a general 'relaxed' read through looking for typos and anything in any of those categories that jumps out at me. Depending on what I find, I decide on what I will tackle first, so it's quite arbitrary. Then, during that run, I'll decide what to do next. It might be decided by something major I come across, or possibly a minor issue that's bugging me. For example, if I have three main characters, I might no do them one after the other, but in between other edits.

I don't consciously look at the theme aspect you mentioned, but I'm sure I have that in mind.

There's nothing scientific about it, just the 'vibe' :giggle:

But something unexpected always pops up in each edit. I just cross my fingers that it's positive and not negative!
 

Teresa Edgerton

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As Steve says, deciding what to address and when depends on what you find during any given editing pass. Unexpected things can leap out at you just when you are feeling there is not much left to do.

Obviously the big stuff has to be dealt with first, no matter when it comes to your notice. Suppose, for instance, that you think the book is essentially finished and you are going through looking for typos and minor stuff, but [ouch!] you suddenly realize there is a plot hole that you somehow missed before? Fixing that may be a matter of adding a few lines, or rewriting a short passage here and there (often that is all it will take once you give it sufficient thought) but it might turn out to require much, much more. You may have to throw out a significant amount of what you have written. And there is no point spending time polishing scenes, or even whole chapters, that may have to be cut entirely, or at least revised in a major way, now that you have spotted the problem.
 

The Big Peat

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Jo hits on the best method of working out what is needed and what is not - put it in front of readers and see what they say. One, they find it easier, two, since the whole purpose of a book of communicating your ideas with others, you need to have others read it and check it says what you wanted it to say. You might be convinced a scene adds nothing but it's the scene an editor would threaten you if you suggested cutting it. You might be convinced a scene is genius, and if four beta readers come back and report getting tired, or not really liking the character it's introducing, it's clearly not genius.

But in terms of self-reliance... I don't know, I'm crap at this. But there's two things that occur to me -

1) The simplest option is usually the best

2) The simplest option in terms of working out how to solve writing problems is usually not to discuss tools, but to discuss the problem (and point out what tools are being used). That's because writing problems are so ruddy abstract until nailed down into something specific, and it's easier to learn with demonstration and doing.

So... what's the things in your book you want to change? Character arcs? Tighter plotting? Quicker pace? Or just brushing up the prose?
 

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