So, in my last post I said I would leave my first draft alone for two weeks before editing. I kind of lied. Between being bored and being anxious to get started, I decided to start the process tomorrow.
I’m an analyst at heart, so I’ve decided to use the Story Grid approach to editing (for info about the book, see my review here). The goal of this approach is to help the writer (or editor) find story problems before revising the draft. After all, what’s the point of revising scenes that may not work?
The story grid the book refers to is a chart derived from a spreadsheet containing various bits of information about every scene in the book. I’m only going to discuss the first couple of steps here; for a full explanation of the process, please read the book and/or check out the Story Grid website. If you already have some knowledge of the process, there is also a Story Grid forum where you can find additional information.
The first step is pretty easy. I’ll be going through every scene in the manuscript, recording the word count and a minimalist description of the story event the scene contains. When I finish, I’ll enter all of that data in a spreadsheet – the Story Grid site has a sample spreadsheet pre-filled with data from The Silence of the Lambs that I’ll use for a template. This should take 1-3 days to complete.
The information collected during the first step may not seem all that helpful at first glance. However, it does give you a way to gauge the word count of specific scenes vs. the importance of the scene in the overall story. For example, you might find a scene about washing a car that runs 3-4k words, where getting a diagnosis of cancer at the doctor’s office only runs 1k. Each of those scenes would probably need to be revised so their word counts are more appropriate for their relative importance to the overall story.
The next step is a little harder, and may take as long as two weeks. Going through the entire manuscript again, I’ll be identifying the value shift (how the character changes during the scene), polarity shift (whether the change is positive or negative), and turning point (when the change occurs) for each scene. After collecting this information for all the scenes, I’ll enter it into my spreadsheet.
Each scene should not only have movement, that movement should be consistent with the overall character arc and should also move the plot forward. Any scenes with no movement will need to be re-written so that movement occurs, or be cut from the manuscript.
The book recommends another pass through all the scenes to collect another set of information, but I’m thinking I’ll skip this step and save another couple of weeks. Honestly, I’m in a hurry to dig into revisions and I don’t think the information they suggest collecting is as important as what I’ll gather in the first two steps.
When step two is complete, I’ll have a road map of my story in spreadsheet form. By overlaying information from a second spreadsheet (sorry, you’ll need to read the Story Grid book for details on that one), I’ll be able to start revisions with a more thorough knowledge of where each scene fits in the overall plot, and cut or lengthen each section to more closely fit standard structure conventions.
I’ll be glad to try to answer any questions, but I highly recommend reading the book as well as the online resources Shawn Coyne has made available. I’ll try to post again after the process is done to let you know if I found it worthwhile.