Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Having Fun With Revisions - Digging into the Seekerville Archives

The Seekerville archives are full of wonderful blog posts. I'm sharing this one from 2016 as a taste of what you can find there.

How do you find the archives? Look at the top of the page...see the button? You've got it!

Now, a trip into the past...

* * * * * *

by Jan Drexler

We all know the feeling.

You wake up early, refreshed and ready to head into the next scene of your Work In Progress. You grab your caffeine of choice (mine happens to be tea) and sit down in front of your computer.

Everything is fine until about an hour later. You read through what you’ve written and you’re ready to tear your hair out! What happened to those beautiful words that flowed through your mind during your shower? Why are your characters so…so…cardboard? Yes, cardboard!

You bang your forehead on your keyboard, sobbing. “I’ll never be a real writer!!!”

Okay, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic. Or maybe not. First drafts are – yes, we can say it – awful. But that’s okay! Look at that scene again….

I wrote 700 words this morning. It was the beginning of a scene for my next Love Inspired book that I had labeled “action leading to Twist 1.”

The problem?

Here, let me give you a sample:

“blah blah blah pigs blah blah blah mud blah blah blah father blah blah blah money…”

Do you see what I see? No action! No movement – unless you count the pigs wallowing in the mud (and I don’t). It’s just my hero, Samuel, and the pigs. There isn’t even any dialogue.

Seven hundred words of boredom. Blah blah blah.

Unless you like pigs.

But I’m not giving up. The first draft – no matter how horrible it might be – is necessary. I’ve dumped what I want the scene to look like onto my computer screen. I’ve given my ideas shape. There is something there…which is much better than nothing.

I can’t revise words I haven’t written, and revising is what makes the writing sing. 

So how do I fix this scene?

First of all, the biggest problem is that Samuel is alone. The whole scene is introspection, with a few buckets of pig slops thrown in.

When our characters are alone, nothing happens. Think of the last time you had a moment to yourself and write it out as if it’s a scene in your book.

Jan swished the tea bag in the cup of hot water, hoping that would make it brew faster. She flipped the newspaper open with one hand and read the headline. “Mayor Urges More Spending on City Center.”

Exciting, right? Unless someone walks into the kitchen at that moment and starts a conversation. Then we have some spark. Some interest.

There is a time for our characters to be by themselves, deep in introspection, but this scene isn’t it. Remember that this is an action scene. And it’s a lead-in scene.

What is it leading into? The first plot twist. So in order to write the lead-in, I need to know where I’m going.

What is the plot twist? I have that planned already – Samuel tells the heroine, Mary, that she should stop worrying about money. “Find some fellow to marry and let him worry about it.”

Yeah. Right. She responds to that suggestion about as well as you think.

So now I know what I need to do to fix this scene. Since Mary is going to be key in the next scene, I need to bring her in here. Something she says or does will prompt Samuel to make that suggestion in the next scene that sends her off.

So instead of introspection, I need dialogue between Samuel and Mary. They can talk about the pigs, the mud, and his father. But they need to talk to each other.

Okay, I can hear some of you already: “Plot twist?” “Lead-in?” “Action scene?” What is she talking about?

It’s time for a quick lesson in scene building 101. This is not a rabbit trail, I promise! I’ll come back to revisions in a minute.

How to build a scene:

1. Give it a purpose. Scenes aren’t just fluff and filler. Each scene has a role to play to move your story forward from the beginning, through the middle and on to the end. You, as the author, need to know what each scene’s purpose is. That will help you determine how the scene will play out.

2. Give it a beginning, middle and an end. Think of each scene as a mini-story within your book. Start by showing your reader who is in the scene, where they are and what they’re doing. Ramp up some tension that’s appropriate for this scene’s purpose. And then end with a hook…make your reader go on to the next scene with no thought of putting your book down.

3. Give it a main character. Each scene needs to have a main POV character, and your job is to show the scene through the character who is best able to convey the message of the scene to your reader. 

Now back to revising my scene’s first draft. As I revise, I need to keep asking myself those all-important questions.

Another point to consider as I revise this scene is balance.

I tend to write scenes with a word count between 1200 and 1500 words. In my novels for Revell, the scenes tend to be longer, around 2200 words. Why is this an important detail to know? Because I want to build my scenes in proportions the same way I do my novel.

Most novels are in three acts, with Act One in the first 25% of the book, Act Two in the next 50%, and Act Three in the remaining 25%. I want my scenes to have that same kind of proportion.

So my balanced scene would be around 300 words for the beginning, 600 words for the middle, and 300 words for the end. Do you see the symmetry?

Okay. We have our three building blocks and our scene is balanced. How does it look now?

In the first 25%, I describe the physical setting: Samuel is in the barn feeding his pigs, the morning is pleasant, and he is happy to see Mary stop by the farm.

In the middle 50% of the scene, we have the conversation between Samuel and Mary.

They talk about the pigs, his farm, and her idea to raise money to support herself, her sister and their elderly aunt.

Then in the final 25%, we see Samuel’s reaction to the conversation and his lack of understanding of why Mary feels the need to support herself. She should just find a husband, right?

And the groundwork is laid for the next scene.

I have an assignment for you. Don’t worry, it’s a fun one!

Find your favorite book and read it again. This time, pay attention to the scenes as they unfold. Do they have the three building blocks of a good scene? Do they end with a hook?

Now, what can you do to make your writing sing like that?

* * * * * 

Back to the present!

I would apologize for the winter graphics, but we're on the downward side of a late winter storm here in the Black Hills. Lots of wet, wet snow! So I get to share it with you!

Let's discuss scene-building. What is your favorite technique? Or do you "wing-it," working through it until it feels right?

Jan Drexler’s ancestors were among the first Amish immigrants in the 1700s, and their experiences are the inspiration for her stories. Jan lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota with her husband and growing extended family. She writes historical Amish fiction and is published by Revell and Love Inspired.

Twitter: @JanDrexler


  1. We got a slow start this Wednesday morning, but I'm glad you dropped by.

    For those of you who are enjoying(?) winter weather like I am, I have a pot of hot Earl Grey on the buffet and warm cinnamon rolls straight from Indiana's Amish Country. YUM!

    For everyone else, there are assorted bottled drinks in the cooler, and daughter Carrie with ice cream treats from Armadillos Ice Cream in Rapid City. Just follow the fragrance of fresh waffle cones!

    1. I will drink Earl Grey no matter the weather. It's almost 90 degrees here, and my family was splashing in the pool this morning.

    2. We have plenty of water as our snow melts, but I won't be splashing in it! 40° today!

  2. I think I am sort of a "wing-it" author when it comes to scenes. If I try to focus too much on making sure I have all the necessary parts during the writing process, my creativity gets stifled. I just try to get my characters from where they've been to where they need to be. I can make sure everything is there once I have that sketched out. :-)

    1. That's why I wait until revision time to fine-tune my scenes. You're right - if I try to line up all the ducks while I'm writing, I'd never get anywhere!

  3. I am catching up on all the book work I missed while I was at a writing retreat, but I will be implementing these revision tips as I finish up the final read-through of this novel before my due date!

    1. The final read-through is a great time to take a hard look at those scenes!

  4. This makes so much sense to me. I have often scrapped pages and stared at the computer... and then realized I needed to kill someone.

    Or run over a pet.

    Or have a child go missing or be found.

    Those long dissertations are part of my process but then I have to take an ax to them and kick them to the curb.

    Ay yi yi.

    Jan, great reminders for me. Thank you!

    1. Glad I could help, Ruthy!

      And I'm so glad you didn't let the pet get run over. Or kill someone.

      The missing child being found is good, though! Keep that one! :-)

  5. Great post, Jan. I am out of school now for the summer and finally going to work on revision of my novel, so this should be helpful.

    1. You always make good use of your school vacations, Sandy! Praying for good ideas and flashes of insight!

  6. Thank you. Solid fundamentals which I sorta subconsciously understood, but this post shed light to the murkiness. Now to translate it to the page....

    1. Hi Samantha!

      Sometimes it just takes someone else spelling out a concept for me to realize that I knew all that already...but now it has a name and a purpose. :-)

      Have fun putting the ideas into use!

    2. Yep, and makes diagnosing tricky scenes that much easier. Thanks!

  7. When I get in the midst of writing sometimes my mind freezes up and I don't know where to go next. It really is simple!

    Thanks so much for the advice.

  8. I find reading about the inside of an author so interesting. Thank you for sharing your journey. Have a blessed day.

  9. Hi Jan:

    "I can’t revise words I haven’t written…"


    Have you heard of the internal editor? Mine will revise a sentence two or three times before I can get the words keyboarded!

    My IE wants me to get the first draft down in as clean a shape as possible in order to make the editing process that much more productive.

    What's that famous saying:

    "Everyone has time to do it over but no one has the time to get it right in the first place"?

    As for my approach to writing a scene it is this:

    Establish the scene's objective. Then structure the scene to achieve the most story/writing goals possible. A scene can achieve one objective or, if packed creatively, it can accomplish six, seven or even more goals. This takes time but I've noticed that this is what the mega best selling authors do. This is also why James Patterson will edit his work six or more times after it was good enough to publish.

    And by the way, this supports your point about how important editing is. Absolutely essential for best seller status.


    P.S. I really like the winter graphics. I've working on a Christmas novella. Just perfect!

    P.P.S. One advantage of a hyper IE is that if I get writer's block, my IE just writes the next stuff herself!

  10. Vince, that's so funny! I can identify with that.

    I'm in North Carolina right now, and I'm playing catch up but this was perfect timing for the suspense novella I've written for "Summer of Suspense" that releases in early August.

    First it was fun working with so many lovely ladies, but mostly it was fun writing a novella and then going back and making sure to hit the right "notes" as I edited and revised... To me that's the frosting on the cake. The cream in "la creme"... Because it's so much better the third and fourth time around. And this is a great reminder as I revise this coming week of how to do it right. And how to picture the whole thing as a unit. I find that's so much easier to do if I walk away from it for days or weeks...

    I come back to it with Fresh Eyes and Brain Syndrome!

  11. Hi Ruth: I can relate to your quote, "I come back to it with Fresh Eyes and Brain Syndrome!I come back to it with Fresh Eyes and Brain Syndrome!" I call this, "clearing the buffer" in computer talk.

    I look forward most to "Summer of Suspense" just to see how so many authors approach the same story theme. It's made me want to write a novella and do the many edits that top authors do.


  12. Jan, so glad this was pulled and reposted. There is a wealth of information here and I so appreciate all of the Seekers sharing their experiences and expertise. I think the revision process is a fun one since it seems (in my extremely limited experience) that this is the part of the process where the MS comes to life. Lee-Ann


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