Continuing on from last week, we’ll look in more detail at the most common flaws found during the read through of a novel/short story and ways in which a writer can correct them.
Pacing is one of those things where it is sometimes hard to find a balance. The story shouldn’t race along without pausing for breath, but at the same time, it shouldn’t plod to the point of boring your readers. It needs to fluctuate steadily, slowly building up to a crescendo – the ultimate tease for your reader.
Pacing problems often occur because there is little description to slow the narrative down or there is too little dialogue to support it. This sometimes occurs in the first draft and is easily corrected at the read through stage by making notes to add more description to bolster the narrative or to add more dialogue where necessary in order to break the pace and achieve that balance.
Sometimes a situation created by a writer might look like a really good idea, but a closer look might reveal some fundamental errors in its plausibility and sense of realism.
It’s easy to create these kinds of situations - we’re too busy writing to worry too much about glaring errors, not until we read what we’ve written find those mistakes.
Here’s a simple example:
You’ve created an action scene within an airport, with people chasing the hero. There’s mayhem and guards/police with guns, but our hero manages to give the security guards the slip and escapes...because it always happens in the movies that way, right?
Well, no, not in real life. Airports are fastidious with security. CCTV cameras watch your every move. Armed security is around every corner. Plain clothed police patrol airport areas, so if the hero did try to escape, you would need to find a plausible way of making that happen, considering his chances would be extremely slim. How will he dodge the CCTV? How will he escape armed police or security patrols? How will he move through the crowds without causing a panic and giving his position away?
All these things can cause plot headaches; anything can happen in fiction, but the situations must to be plausible in order to engage the reader and convince them.
Fiction is just that, it enables writers to make readers suspend a certain amount of disbelief; but remember, writing isn’t like the movies. A writer always has to show a reader why and how things happen. The implausible must become plausible.
If you spot impossible situations within your story, make notes to research thoroughly your subject so that you can come up with ways your hero might be able to get out of and around a tight situation. There are always ways, but the writer must find something credible and tangible if he wants to keep the story within the realms of reality.
This is where you have to pay attention when reading your story. Whether you commit a character, a place or situation to a story, make sure you stick to it. Know your characters thoroughly – don’t inadvertently change their eye colour half way through the story, or they take up smoking by chapter 28 without a preceding hint of doing so. Consistency makes perfect continuity.
Places sometimes change – a small town mentioned early in the novel might have changed name by towards the end of it, or moved location without you even realising.
Objects mysteriously change too - a knife used in chapter 5 might suddenly change to a gun in chapter 18. The name of a yacht, say, shouldn’t mysteriously change to something else halfway through the story.
The read through will weed out these minor inaccuracies. Make notes on each chapter, list the changes to you want or use the margins if you’ve printed out your MS, do whatever is best for you to keep track of the errors and ways to amend them.
As with your characters, you should thoroughly know your background setting, because the more you know, the less likely you are to make a continuity mistake. Know beforehand the places your story will take place; do your research, even if the places are only minor mentions.
Don’t set a novel in New York and inadvertently place the Statue of Liberty in the wrong location, or use London as a backdrop and get road names wrong.
Writers should aim for accuracy within their work, no matter how insignificant something might seem. That means spelling the place name correctly throughout.
If you don’t spot these errors, your reader certainly will.
How you go about rooting these problems out is up you as a writer. Many writers simply make a numbered list of the errors they come across while doing a read through. They can then go back and tackle each problem once the read through is complete.
Some make notes in the margins on the manuscript, which I like to do – useful for immediate thoughts and ideas. When I go back to the problem area to correct it, I can refer back to the notes I made and incorporate those ideas.
Others writers do a full chapter-by-chapter checklist, making notes and ideas on each one – what needs to change, or be corrected, what needs to be cut etc.
Each writer is different. The important thing is that the errors are spotted, noted and corrected ready for editing.
Next week: Confidence in writing – or lack of it