Here’s a pared-down version of my revision process based on the FAT acronym gleaned in the main from a lecture by the novelist Bret Anthony Johnson and the wonderful how-to book, WRITING DEEP SCENES: PLOTTING YOUR STORY THROUGH ACTION, EMOTION, & THEME by Martha Alderson and Jordan Rosenfeld (2015).
I key in the THEME wherever it’s gotten lost in the narration.
I introduce FAT on each page: THE F IN FAT: Feelings; show (don’t tell) the character’s emotional state, positive and negative, as it develops. THE A IN FAT: ACTION: Action is not filling a kettle or driving unless that act is created by the need for a character to meet his/her goals; that is, a motivated act or series of acts that furthers the plot and whose hazards enhance tension. THE T IN FAT: Thoughts: reveal the main character’s reflections on what is happening vis-à-vis the plot and other characters, as well as his/her plans or goals or insights.
Each chapter is composed of several different kinds of scenes, none of which should shoulder out the others. That is, I don’t have an entire chapter of talking heads unless it’s a one-scene chapter.
FROM ALDERSON AND ROSENFELD: SCENE TYPES
- Climax: a point of triumph.
- Contemplative/often a sequel to a prior scene: reaction to external events and an assessment of feelings.
- Crisis: Mini crises occur throughout the narrative.
- Dialogue: reveals key plot information and deepens characters.
- Epiphany: breaks open the heart and mind to bring new understanding of the self.
- Escape: heavy on action, involving flight with little contemplation and the transition from one site of action to another. Combine with suspense scenes.
- Final: Glimpse of character at the end of the journey.
- First: introduces a compelling protagonist with a goal to pursue. Heavy on visual and sensory imagery.
- Lay-of-Land: description of a new physical or emotional location.
- Love: romantic interactions, deep feelings, revelations of character’s inner self through intimacy. May involve physical, spiritual, or emotional revelations.
- Recommitment: taking stock, planning action, changing in order to survive.
- Resolution: usually follows a climax/triumph; relationships bolstered, ties deepened.
- Transition: the establishment of logical connections of scenes often with a thematic edge.
- Suspense: uncertainty or insecurity with emotional intensity. References the antagonist who may be unpredictable or stronger than suspected—which raises the level of suspense.
- Twister: a shock or surprise to the protagonist and reader, which will reverse fortunes and raise the stakes. It reveals new character traits and often foreshadows the theme.
Thank you Martha and Jordan: I make sure that the scene type is fully developed in terms of its desired effect. That is, an escape scene is a vehicle for emotional turmoil (or sang-froid intelligence) and should shed light on the character’s personality and skill set.
Once the scene-order is established (and supplementary scenes added where necessary) I check the dialogue of each major character. I begin with the protagonist and erase all the text except his/her dialogue. (I suspect I should include thoughts in this process but I don’t as yet). With only the dialogue as written in front of me, I check for inconsistencies, speech patterns that I want and those I don’t, and make adjustments.
Then, I run through all the rest of the characters in the same way, making sure they are sufficiently idiosyncratic that not everyone says “Yeah” or “Nope” or “Lord sakes”; that vocabularies are distinctive; and that, for the most part, a voice can speak for itself without the need for speech tags. (So I tell myself.)
Then, the awful part—typos, punctuation, dictionary-confirmations, spell-checks, even reading from the last word to the first to catch imperfect phrasing that’s gotten past a regular reading.