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List Love

[1]I like a good list. Nothing says “accomplishment” like a checked box or a crossed out To Do. I dare say lists are my closest companions. Several months ago, I did a WU post on “How to Kick Out a Fast First Draft. [2]” In many ways, that step-by-step method was an example (or symptom) of what I’m talking about.

Of course, as I said then, you can’t tackle the rewrite with a list. That part is an art that will not be rushed. It’s the time of inspired sleep, hot baths, long walks, chocolate, and maybe a drop of wine. It’s the stage of epiphanies. And–because I can not address it with a list–it is, for me, the most uncomfortable time of the writing process. It’s the swampy unease. So much so, I won’t talk about it here.

Rather, I’ll get back into my comfort zone and on to my next list:

THE FINAL REVISION

▢ 1. FIRST LINES

You’ve heard it said, your book must start with a killer first line. I’d go so far as to say that the same should be true for every chapter. Focusing in on the job of sharpening those lines is more easily done if you cut and paste them onto a single page. Work with them without the distraction of the rest of the book. Work and re-work until they each sing or zing or do something other than lie there flat and lifeless.

▢ 2. REMEMBER THE RUSSIAN 

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov is known for a type of literary device commonly referred to as “Chekhov’s gun.” The notion is that if, in the first scene, there is a loaded gun on the table, by the second or third scene it should go off. If it’s not going to fire, don’t bother mentioning it in the first place. Conversely, if you know the climax will involve a gun, by all means make sure you’ve planted the gun in the early scenes.

▢ 3. ENHANCE THE SCENE

Look at each chapter and identify its mood (hopeful, terrifying, celebratory, mysterious…). Go in and enhance the mood with colors, weather, verbs, clothing, etc. Perhaps some of these details are already present from earlier revisions, but see what you can do to do more.

▢ 4. GET RID OF DOG TAGS 

Search for words like exclaimed, questioned, interrogated, wise-cracked . . . . When they come up as part of a dialogue tag, ask yourself whether it’s a dog. Is it redundant, or distracting, or unnecessary? Nine times out of ten, “said” is preferable.

▢ 5. PRE-POSITIONED PREPOSITIONS

Get rid of redundant prepositions, for example, kneeled down. You can’t kneel up, can you? If you can, you might have a future as a circus contortionist. Delete the “down” and go with “kneeled.” Other examples, bowed down, stand/stood up, fell down, looked back over his shoulder.

▢ 6. EUTHANIZE THE PET WORDS

We’ve all got them. Maybe every other page you describe someone as “adorable,” or maybe, as  you read your work, the word “just” just keeps popping up. All I have to do is just open my laptop and within the first three sentences, “just” will show up at least once. Just drives me crazy! Know your pet word. Kill it.

▢ 7. BUILD MUSCLE

Get rid of words that weaken a sentence, for example, about, almost, quite, and nearly. These words weaken every idea. Why does he have to “almost smile?” Why is she “about to arrive?” Why would anyone want to almost do anything? Make the characters act–not almost act.

▢ 8. THE BIG DUH. WATCHING, LOOKING, and LISTENING

This one is for First Person P.O.V. stories. Avoid sentences where your P.O.V. character narrates saying, “I watched as John did X.” Because it’s the P.O.V. character, the reader already knows he/she is watching–otherwise he/she wouldn’t know what was going on. “John sliced the bread” is better than “I watched John slice the bread.” See? Same thing with “I listened to John tell a terrible joke.” Just say “John told a terrible joke” and move on.

▢ 9. LAST LINES

As you did with your first lines, cut and paste the last lines of each chapter onto a single page. Do they each make you want to read further? Do they beg a question that must be immediately answered? Or are they an easy place to set a book mark and call it a night? Don’t let your reader have an easy place to stop. Your job is to keep them up so dang late they oversleep and are late for work.

Happy Writing!

About Anne Greenwood Brown [3]

Anne Greenwood Brown (@AnneGBrown [4]) writes Young Adult ("YA") fiction. She is represented by Jacqueline Flynn of Joelle Delbourgo Associates. She is the author of the LIES BENEATH trilogy (Random House/Delacorte Press), GIRL LAST SEEN (co-author/ Albert Whitman & Co.), and COLD HARD TRUTH (Albert Whitman, April 2018). Anne was a proud contributor to Writer Unboxed's AUTHOR IN PROGRESS as well as a presenter at the 2016 UnConference. She also writes adult romance under the pen name "A. S. Green."

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