In The Margins, pt 2

When I make comments on student’s papers–they are submitted as printed pieces of paper–I underline sentences or phrases.  I scribble notes on the right side and react with one or two words on the left side.  I usually write a quick summary at the end of the assignment, basically thanking the student for the work and pulling my feedback together. 

I got that from Scottie May at Wheaton because she always “thanked” us for the work we did.  I thought that was so intriguing that I started doing that when I taught ministry classes in the church, eventually doing the same in the VFCL program at Garrett-Evangelical, while growing in appreciation for what work I was reading.

One comment that has come up in the margins of my own work-in-progress is about the story’s pacing.  I’m learning that anything and everything that slows the pacing disrupts the reader’s experience.  And the reader’s experience is what the story is all about.  Here are a couple things I’m learning in those margins about pacing as I revise the WIP.

  1. Too much description slows the pace.  All those overwritten phrases and those poetic lines that may sound good to me, stops the movement.  Saying too many things about other things happening outside of the major plot is bad for a novel’s pace.
  2. Too many words changes the pace.  My editor, and my early readers too, said that “Less is More.”  I believe the editor wrote, “Less really is more, Michael.”  Use less words because too many words, rather than better pinning down the story, complicates it unnecessarily.  A story with the wrong words creates clutter.
  3. Too many characters crowds the story.  I’m told that for every character the reader is asking something like, how essential is this person?  Or saying, “Maybe I should hold on to this person because I don’t know what he’ll do or where she’ll take the novel.”  When there are too many people mentioned, readers can’t keep track.
  4. Keeping time is essential to maintain pace.  My story takes place over the course of five months.  But before my editor got to it, I included very little to mark the movements in time, to help the reader move from one week to another.  You could easily be confused if you weren’t in my head!  Part of revising for me has been about ordering and reordering scenes while including time stamps, explicitly or implicitly, so that following the story is actually possible. 
  5. Tightening the story means cutting the story.  I hate saying goodbye.  I even leave parties and people’s homes without telling them I’m leaving because I don’t like saying goodbye.  The same goes for me and my words.  When I write, I think my words are the best things I’ll ever type.  That makes it very hard to cut them.  And I mean to really cut them, to delete them.  Not to save them for something else or for the next WIP.  Beccause there is no next.  There is only the story I’m telling right then.  When those words go away, it hurts.  But I have to delete them to tighten and sharpen and focus the story.  It’s hard to believe that one of the best things for writing a novel is deleting words.

If you’re interested in In The Margins, pt 1, click here.


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