You’ve heard of writing prompts, now we have revision prompts! Each prompt will give you a specific writing issue to check for in your WIP, along with tips on how to fix each. Going through this process one issue at a time will not only help polish your current novel but will also teach you specific ways to improve your writing for your next story.
SETTING THE SCENE: There are a number of important reasons to include location information at the beginning of each scene. At the bottom of all of them, though, is the need for the readers to clearly see the characters in the setting. Because readers use your words to paint the picture of your story in their mind, if there are no words to describe where the characters are, they will either create the wrong setting in their mind or the characters will kind of float in nothingness. At the least, it’s annoying for the reader. At the worst, it frustrates the reader enough to make him put the book down and never pick it up again.
PICK THE FIRST PARAGRAPH OF ANY SCENE IN YOUR STORY: Are there any clues to show the readers the setting? Really concentrate on the words and ignore the picture already in your head because you know the story. What do you see based only on the words. Are there enough clues to paint in a setting? Can you tell when it takes place in relation to the last scene?
Aimee grabbed her lunch off the table and ran out the door. Always the last to leave; the cow’s tail, her grandmother always said. Her backpack bounced up and down against her back as she raced for the bus. At least this time she didn’t have to worry that it would leave without her. Ms. Leroy always double-checked the roll before they left on a field trip. Even so, heat rose up Aimee’s face as she jumped up to the first step in the bus. If she had to be known for something, why couldn’t it be for her storytelling instead of always being late?
Did you get confused about halfway through the paragraph? That’s understandable. In this example, the setting is not given. So all you have to go in is the action. In this case, the action mimics something that often happens at home when a child is running late for school. Since that is not the correct setting, however, the words cause confusion when they begin to show the true setting, in a classroom which is preparing to go on a field trip.
Just a few words of description woven into the action above is all it takes to clarify the setting:
Aimee grabbed her lunch off the table by the classroom door, where Ms. Leroy had neatly set out a Chick-Filet bag for each student. Always the last to leave; the cow’s tail, her grandmother always said. Aimee’s backpack bounced up and down against her back as she raced down the hallway and out the main doors for the bus. At least this time she didn’t have to worry that it would leave without her. Ms. Leroy always double-checked the roll before they left on a field trip. Even so, heat rose up Aimee’s face as she jumped up to the first step in the bus. If she had to be known for something, why couldn’t it be for her storytelling instead of always being late?
EVALUATE THE BEGINNING OF EACH SCENE IN YOUR STORY: Have you set the scene? Do your words give the reader enough clues about the setting that they can see it in their mind’s eye? Do this for each scene to make sure the reader can see where the characters are at all times.
One of the keys to publication is a willingness to learn. We hope our Revising Prompts will help you learn more about the craft of writing and speed you on your way to publication.