GB Williams gives a master class in editing to give that final polish to your writing.
It is a common criticism that books, especially crime fiction, can be confusing. Confusion will throw the reader out of the read every time, but it’s a writer’s job to engage the reader and draw them in. So how to do that? Lots of ways, but here are some of the structural things that can help.
Assume that, as per my recent experience, you have a manuscript to send out. In the manuscript each scene works individually, but as a whole there’s a problem. The readers say the book is coming across as ‘confusing.’ I had to do something, so here are the steps I worked through to reduce the potential for confusion.
Lots of books jump back and forth with timeline, keeping things in strict timeline order can help keep the story straight. Yes, crime fiction means uncovering what happened in the past, but that can be shown to the reader in the same way it is discovered by the investigator (professional or amateur).
In reviewing my manuscript I was revealing everything in its correct time order, I realised while rereading that that lead to the story jumping about from point of view to point of view and as a reader even I was losing track of who was where and doing what. Clearly, that meant strict timelining wasn’t the answer to this issue.
2. POINT OF VIEW SMOOTHING
Most (not all) books are delivered from multiple points of view, but there is a limit. Look to see if fewer characters can carry more of the story, most books can be carried by two or three characters.
When I analysed the script mentioned above, I had twelve POV characters. So, I went through who was in each scene and found many places where I could legitimately switch the POV to another character and lose little to nothing from the scene. In some cases, the switch actually added a great deal more depth. I got the POVs down to five characters. In other circumstances I would have gone lower, but the nature of this book, being split between London and Wales, meant that certain characters only appeared in one location and those that were in both couldn’t carry all the action. Still, but reducing the number of POV characters, confusion was reduced.
Spend longer with each POV character, enrich what is delivered per scene, so it feels more legitimate and less choppy. Don’t pad, concentrate on storytelling.
This may sound counter intuitive, but following a strict timeline often leads to short scenes and frequent confusing changes. So be flexible with
the timeline and spend a little more time with each POV character so the reader gets familiar with their actions before moving on to the next. When I applied this to the manuscript it meant that I merged two, three, and in one worrying case, four previous chapters into single chapters. That said, I should make clear that in that particular script I had chapters with as little as 96 words, so merging chapters without making them too long wasn’t difficult. Note that elongating isn’t a licence to pad the word count, just to amalgamate and solidify the actions of a character.
When doing this, consider pacing and action. Most of this type of changes were done at the start of my book, to build a better foundation by establishing the characters in the readers minds. Later in the book when it came to the big chase and fight scenes over a mountain, the quick scene changes were kept because by then the reader know who each of the characters were and the shorter chapter length kept up the necessary pacing for that kind of sequence.
4. DELETE AND REWRITE
Review the scene plan. Then scene re-plan. Be absolutely sure what needs to get across to the reader, and write strictly to that plan.
Yes, there will be tears before bedtime with this one, but sometimes it is necessary to get drastic. Review each scene/chapter, does it delivery what it needs to deliver? Think about what needs to happen and when. Be absolutely sure that what needs to get across to the reader is there, plan for
that, write to that. Then, in all likelihood, re-work it so it looks more natural than this method usually delivers.
In my latest review, I did re-scene plan, but luckily, because I’d rewritten for POV, that meant I didn’t have to delete or rewrite much. Dumped about 1200 words and replaced them with a new 1500 words, which in a 96k book, is a pretty good hit rate.
One thing that’s important to note, I reviewed that manuscript because I got feedback. Always get feedback, always listen to feedback, always act on feedback (even if the action is nothing more than to say “thank you for your feedback”).
And thank you for reading.
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30th August 2019