A Revision Guide to Perfecting a Scene

Allow me, humans, to wish you a very happy end to your year. Hope you collected inspirations for writing and motivation to continue into 2015.

A Scene

What exactly is a scene? We all know what it means in reference to movies, and to a novel, it really is something similar. It is a series of events, from beginning to conclusion, that occur at the same location or time frame. A novel is made up of chapters, which are made up of scenes. 

Sometimes, as writers, we get caught up in two things: 1) the bigger picture of the master plot of the novel; and 2) the focus in details of individual paragraphs and sentences. The concept of narrowing in on scenes often gets lost in between both these ideas. 

However, strong scenes are crucial to keep the reader turning pages. They take the reader from one point to the next, from every twist and turn in the story. Some we do remember to take care on, such as the beginning and the climax. But others, particularly in the middle of our novels, we forget to give attention.

A Guide

Now that you've finished writing your novel, it's time to go back and look at your scenes. Ideally, this should come after you've already looked at your total plot. Revisions tend to work from the large to the very small. So once you're sure that all your scenes are in the correct order, that all the puzzle pieces fit together, it's time to paint those actual puzzle pieces.

Components of a Strong Scene

Characters: Which characters play a part in this scene? Are they all crucial to the scene? Are there any characters that you're missing or that can be cut? What are their goals during this scene? Are those goals clear to the reader? How are their actions in this scene reaffirming the reader's understanding of this character? (Reaffirming character traits is more important in creating a round character than having a ton of traits)

Setting: Where does this scene take place? Is there a better, cooler place? Is the setting crucial for the scene? (could it happen anywhere else?) Do the character interact with their surroundings constantly throughout the scene? When does this scene take place during the day/season? How does this affect the scene? 

Beginning-Middle-End: Does the scene have a strong catalyst that begins the scene? (What brought the characters to this scene and what drives this particular scene?) How does the conflict of this scene relate to the conflicts of the previous and following scenes? How does the conflict of this scene intensify as the scene progresses? Does it have a strong conclusion that logically leads to the next scene? Does the scene end on a strong note? (Hint: Make a last line appear stronger by ending it on a one syllable word or a stressed beat.)

Mood: Is there a strong mood to this scene? Is this mood conveyed strictly by one component of the scene (Setting) or several (Objects, Characters, etc.)? How does this mood relate to the overall mood of the book? Could the mood be strengthened further in my writing? 

Weak Scene Indicators

1. The surroundings disappear

Remember that the setting of the scene needs to be crucial to the scene itself. Keep the characters grounded in this setting. Describe the wind. Have the characters fiddle with the food on their plates. Just keep their actions, especially actions that hint at their mood, personalities, and such, interacting with the setting. Particularly during dialogue, when the surroundings most often disappear.

2. Weak dialogue

Keep the dialogue flowing, and the scene itself will flow. This means having dialogue that is clear and to the point, as well as powerful. One trick is to have at least one badass line on every one to two pages, the type of line you'd want to be quoted by lovers of your book. It doesn't have to be James Bond-esque, but simply powerful, one that pulses with intensity. Also, cut dialogue that is too much like real life. We don't need lengthy greetings. Or characters calling each other by name.

3. Info dumps

This is particularly true for science fiction and fantasy. Avoid boring info dumps. That's not to say you can't have info dumps, but make sure that it is as clear as possible and not continually yanking the reader away from the conflict, which is what truly is propelling your scene.

4. No game changer

Every scene needs to provide a game changer to the overall plot, either in the form of an action or in the reveal of information. Something needs to change, otherwise, what's the point of this scene? 

Why CPs and Beta Readers Save the World

Now that I have your attention, let's talk revising!

I'm sure you've been actively working on your revisions (or actively putting off your revisions), and eventually you will come to the point where you feel like you've done everything you can do. You've read through that manuscript (both aloud and in your head) so many times you can practically recite it in your sleep, you've convinced yourself multiple times that this is the greatest thing to happen to you since meeting your hero (hi, Steve) and that it's absolute trash and you may as well burn it now, depending on the day. You've gone through every tip you know, targeting passive voice and overused words like they are members of HYDRA. You did it all.

So, that means you're good to go? Right?

Absolutely not.

Because, when it comes to our own work, things fly right over our heads.

We completely miss them. Which is why having a fresh set of eyes on your work can really help.

The rest of the YAvengers have been giving some really good post-drafting tips that you can do yourself, so I'm going to go a bit more in-depth on getting help from other writers/readers. Because I'm a team player, and used to playing well with others. For the most part.

Anyway, what I'm talking about are critique partners and beta readers. Otherwise known as superheroes, life-savers, and miracle workers. Because these people may tear apart your manuscript in ways you didn't even know were possible, but they really will take it to the next level. I'm talking a Steve Rogers before-and-after kind of transformation.

Both critique partners and beta readers are invaluable, but whether you want to use one over the other or both really depends on what kind of feedback you're looking for.

A beta reader will give you feedback from a reader's perspective. Sort of like a review before your book can even dream of actually being published. Which is great. Because, when it comes down to it, who matters most besides you, the writer? That's right, the reader. It's so easy for us aspiring novelists to get caught up in the if I can just get this agent/editor/publisher to love me, everything will be okay. But, ultimately, the book ends up in the hands of the reader, so getting a preview of what works and what doesn't from that perspective can really help.

On the other hand, a critique partner will give you feedback from a writer's perspective. They've been through the same thing you have, and they will make sure your novel is where it needs to be. Whether it be the characters, plot development, voice, or the stupid grammar and spelling mistakes that embarrass you for hours after. They will ask you the questions you weren't prepared to answer, and see all the things you missed. Normally, you can exchange services and critique their work as they critique yours. Which is especially great, considering we can't all be like Tony Stark and have enough money to buy our own team of editors.

Either way, the beta reader or critique partner will take all the crap in your writing that you are slightly embarrassed to have left, and help you make it better.

It isn't always easy to find a good critique partner or beta reader. People have different tastes, Not everyone will be the best choice for your novel. Sometimes, trying to find the right critique partner can feel a little bit like online dating.

And, if you are like me, that is definitely not something you're great at.

But have fun, and take it slow. Exchange a few chapters and see how it goes. It may take a few tries, but soon enough, you might have your very own team of superheroes on call to critique each others work, and therefore, save the world. (Trust me, it's definitely related.)


Salvaging The Wreckage

So, you wrote a novel, and it sucks. You suck. The whole thing is pointless. Why did you push yourself through the hell of a first draft when all that you’ve got at the end of it is a mess? Why did you think you were cut out to be a writer anyway?

Examine those feelings for a minute. Get familiar with them. This won’t be the last time you see them.

take off mask

Post-first-draft blues, aka the ‘my novel sucks and I should never have written it’ phase are totally normal. It can make editing seem overwhelming, because what you’ve got in front of you is an unsalvageable wreckage from which you somehow need to extract the good parts and make them better. Yeah, I know, it’s daunting.

But if I can drag myself to write this post with an excruciating migraine, you can do this.


Step 1: Recognition.

The books on your shelves are not first drafts. They are probably not first novels, which your manuscript might be. They’re the product of a lot of editing, rewriting, cutting, expanding; the feedback of beta readers and critique partners and editors; the line editing and proof-reading of a dozen drafts. That book might have been where yours is now three years ago, but it’s been through a lot since then. Yours doesn’t have to match up. And let’s face it, it’s never going to live up to the standards I’m setting. Sorry, babe.

Step 2: Acceptance.

Your book is, at the moment, not very good. You need to admit that. It will make it so much easier to edit it brutally if you’ve fully come to terms with the idea that what you’re starting with is something that’s not very good: you won’t fixate on trying to preserve bits of it.

Step 3: Distance.

Take some time away from your project. A week. A month. Six months. Write another book. Write poetry. Blog. Build your craft, and get far away from that novel.

where do you think i've been for 3 hours

Step 4: Perspective.

Read that book as though it were written by one of your close writing friends. If you don’t have any writing friends (loser) imagine you do, and pretend one of them wrote it. But seriously, get some friends. Even Coulson has friends. If you were reading your friend’s work, how would you give them feedback? You’d focus on the positives, but suggest key areas that are weak. Work out what those positives might be, even if your novel is a train wreck. Is it the character development? The plot? Maybe your structure is a mess, but your prose is beautiful. Unlikely, but hey, weirder things have happened.

Step 5: Salvage.

Take those good parts, and strip them out of the shell. Write them down if they’re plot points. Develop them if they’re characters. Good prose is harder to preserve at this stage, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s really rare for that to be your first draft produce, so… we probably shouldn’t worry too much about that.

Step 6: Design.

Design the second draft of your novel around those good points. Plot it. Draw squiggly lines from index card to index card across a board that covers three walls of that very lenient Starbucks nearby because hey, isn’t that what writers do? Yeah, right. I’ve never used index cards to plot in my life and Starbucks is overrated. Working out structure is my first stage, then I write down major plot points. That’s about it. I figure out how to join them up as I go along.

Hopefully by this stage you’ve worked out what’s good about your novel, and what to jettison as soon as possible. You’ve worked out which plot points allow you to take off and which ones will cause you to ice up as soon as you get close to the atmosphere. And you feel slightly less awful about yourself.



As for me I feel considerably more awful because hey, turns out migraines and computer screens aren’t a good combination. Please excuse me while I go and lie in a darkened room for about six months.

-- Iron Man

Post-NaNoWriMo: Take Time to Smell the Shawarma

Congratulations! You made it through National Novel Writing Month - hopefully, with a little help from your friends here at Team YAvengers - and you've built up some serious momentum.

As a scientist, I know a little something about momentum.
Newton's First Law states that an object (or writer) in motion tends to stay in motion, and you want to stay in motion. You've got a book to polish and query and publish and unleash on the world. You probably feel like you've just fought a battle against time, fatigue, and your own strength of will to get that draft done by December 1st.

Believe me, I know how you feel.

But hear me out: Take a break.

Walk away from that manuscript for at least a week. You need a little perspective on your work - a little distance from it - before you can launch a successful revision.

Sometimes you're just too close to your work to see it. It's like going to a museum to see a Monet painting and trying to view it with your nose up against the canvas. All you'll see is paint lumps until you back away a little bit. And your manuscript is like that. You're so close to it right now, you can probably see each individual scene in detail but you might lack a "big picture" perspective of the focus, or themes, or how it all hangs together. Or maybe all you can see right now is the mistakes and not the strengths. Either way, you need a little distance from it
That's how it was with my friend as she was working on her first YA novel. The sequel is coming out soon, but she struggled with the first one enough to give up on it at least twice, to put it away and decide it was just a failed experiment and to chalk it up to experience. The funny thing was, though, each time she walked away from it and began working on something else, she found that she'd gained enough perspective on the manuscript to really see it, to recognize what worked and didn't and, more importantly, to recognize how to improve it. She'd gotten the necessary distance and perspective by taking a break from it.

I'm not suggesting you take a huge break and come back next November. But I would advise taking a week or two before you jump back in to your manuscript..

Life after NaNoWriMo can be a bit like life after battling aliens. After the team and I fought the Chitauri, we were exhausted, relieved, and a little shellshocked. I just wanted to move on to the next big battle and get that one over with, too. So when Tony suggested we all meet up at a diner and eat some shawarma, I thought, as I often do, that this guy was two bricks short of a truckload.

But he turned out to be right for once. And not just because as you can see, this diner made really good french fries. It turned out that we all needed a break, a change in focus and perspective. (As you can also see, even a god like Thor needs a little time off from saving the world. And that guy can put away some food. He makes Hulk seem like a sparrow in comparison, appetite-wise.)

So take a little time away from your NaNoWriMo manuscript and let it percolate in the back corner of your brain for a little while.

Stop and smell the shawarma and come back to that project refreshed and ready to revise. And then unleash it on the world.

Read Words, Kids

I just realized: I post a lot about recovery.  Recovering from writer's block, recovering from too much writing, recovering from mistyping 'recovering' nearly three times in a row...  I've posted almost as many recovery posts as wrap-ups.  For me, recovery is important.  I don't have lightning to call from the sky.  I don't have a big green monster within me who can take over when I get tired.  I don't have a suit to protect me from the punches.  I've got spandex, which takes almost as much recovery (mostly mental) as any of the shots I've taken.

Barton knows how I feel.  Romanoff knows how I feel.  Coulson knows how I feel-- far too well (I mean him getting shot, not the fan stuff).  You get shot, you get kicked, you take a fall-- after that, you're no use to anyone until you take some time to recover.

Unfortunately, recovery doesn't only apply when bad things happen.  Sure, getting Mj√∂lnir in the side hurts more than anything, but even something as simple as a push-up, or a punch, can bring you an ache the next day.  It doesn't matter if you were punching Loki back into the void.  Despite your good intentions, even the best and most fun activities can take a toll.

NaNoWriMo is one such activity.  Weeks of words, days of dialogue-- this month of madness, as wonderful as it is, takes time.  It takes energy.  It takes enthusiasm.  Somehow, you have to recover from that.  Sometimes, you don't want to recover.  Sometimes you want to ride the wave of euphoria into edits, tackling the novel the same way you wrote it.  Perseverance, unfortunately, will not help you now.  No matter the dedication, there comes a point when you'll hit a wall.

But I'm not here to talk about taking a break.  I'm here to talk about recovering, which can happen even if you keep pushing.  How do you recover from putting down so many words in a single month?

Read.  Read, read, read.  Take a good book you love and read it again.  Take a book a friend has recommended to you and read it for the first time.  Read without looking under the surface for the nuts and bolts of character and plot.  Read with a crazy eye for detail that picks out metaphors in the main character's hairstyle.  It doesn't matter how you read, as long as you read.

Unfortunately, watching movies won't work the same way.  Often, even the best movie won't instill in you the same feeling as a good book.  Movies are hard to make, with hundreds of people working on a single two hours.  Actors, writers, directors, not to mention the guy who has to order lunch for everyone during a long day-- watching a movie, while it gives you character and plot and setting, is not the same.

But a book...  You get a special feeling reading a book, something that you enjoy.  You wrote one of those.  It's all there, on your computer or in a notebook somewhere-- and someday, it could be published, in the hands of another new writer like you were two months ago.  That book is your future (unless it's a bad book, in which case you have my permission to pick a different future).

Something about seeing the words there on paper, telling you a story, empowers you.  Seeing a book as a finished project reminds you what you were fighting for during November.  You have a first draft, but it's not quite there yet-- time to turn it into something publishable.

Read.  Read, read, read.  It inspires you.  It reminds you of your love for words and the stories they tell.  It shows you the power writers can have with just a pen and a notebook-- the power you've already experienced.  This is your recovery from a month of wonderful madness.

And once you've read something, go write something new.

~Captain America

Thor's Celebratory Drinking Game

Greetings, mortals.

I must apologize, as my post should have been up over forty-eight Earth Hours ago. Since finishing NaNoWriMo, however, I have been somewhat distracted. Catching up on things, mostly, such as friendships, laundry, family, favorite television shows...

(It may be blasphemous to some, but I highly enjoy ARROW and THE FLASH...)

At any rate, November is now over, and hopefully most, if not all, of you have a solid chunk of brand new words. Whether it's fifty thousand or ten thousand, and whether they are shiny or in need of polishing, I am here to commend you. You went, you wrote, and you can take a night to congratulate yourself. And what better reward could you ask for than to play a drinking game with friends?


1. Gather your friends together and decide on a movie to watch. It can be AVENGERS, or a holiday movie of your choice, or something you've seen a dozen times before.

2. Since we are the YAvengers, and we write YA, talk YA, and hopefully have in our readership many actual YAs, I will recommend choosing a non-alcoholic drink for this game. Sparkling cider, your favorite soda, coffee, even a smoothie or hot chocolate will do, though some will be riskier than others. Once you've chosen your "poison," as it were. separate it into small servings. Mini-paper cups will do fine. Set these out in front of you on a table or tray for easy access.

3. The rest is simple. Each of you choose a character in the movie. Every time your character's name is said, you must take a drink. There are of course other ways to play. Choosing a word or phrase to drink to, or any time a particular object appears onscreen. Decide beforehand how you'd like to play. And remember to bring your cameras.

Granted, this will not have the inebriating affect of an alcoholic drinking game (which our adult readers are more than welcome to play if they wish), but if you'd like to be extremely adventurous, you could try an extremely sour drink that no one will want to take. Lemon or grapefruit juice straight, or mixed with a little orange juice or sprite -- those would be sour, but palatable.

Whatever your choice, I hope you had an exciting NaNoWriMo. I myself completed it for the first time ever after two failed attempts. I was down to the wire, and managed to pull it through thanks to support from family and friends. I hope you won too, but if not I hope you wrote many words.

Just remember, there doesn't have to be a NaNoWriMo going on for you to write. Without pressure, I think you would be surprised how far you can go. Writing and publishing is a long, difficult road with exciting points that seem few and far-between. Always take time to celebrate your efforts. So for now, relax. Have a drink. And Happy Holidays.




I would like to take a moment to thank the good Captain for his birthday wishes to myself and my alter-ego. He is a good man, if slightly annoying at times. Thank you, Captain.

NaNo's Over-- Have a Sonnet

The month has pass'd along-- let's start anew,
For NaNoWriMo left us destitute.
The links, the jokes, perhaps a gif or two
Prepare us for this month, our great reboot.

December dawn'd t'many a manuscript,
Both finish'd and stagnating in the mind;
Unwilling pen or flowing, words were ripp'd,
And growth from each will ready writer find.

From whence they came, the writers now retreat
To hermitage or city, as they choose;
Their mundane works they once again repeat,
'Til once again their pens they might enthuse.

With NaNoWriMo o'er, it's time to mend
The strangest of the words we have to tend.

NaNoWriMo is over!  Whether you won or you lost, we're proud of you.  You can now go back to your regular lives, but if you're looking for advice in editing this monster you've created, December is for you: Revision, or life after the first draft.  Yes, I could have said that without the sonnet, but I needed to perk myself up.

Once again, I'm Captain America, here to wrap up November in style.  Officially, November was "motivation/goal-setting/inspiration/busting writer’s block" month, but that's too hard to say in one breath.  I'm going to shorten it to NaNo-month, because I'm pretty sure that's all any of us could handle.

To begin the month, HAWKEYE WANTS YOU TO LIVE.  Agent Barton gave excellent tips on self-preservation through the month.  Outfits, food, exercise, food, music, food— he talks about all the necessary NaNo-tools you need to be awesome and not die.  Plus, food.

Didn't I tell you that Miss Potts wrote Stark's posts?  Well, this month I was right.  Iron Man bows to his better 12% in this amazing, encouraging, rather funny pep talk.  Miss Potts spills quite a few of Stark's tricks, plus gives advice so we don't all end up like him.  This is a post to read now, reread later, and save for whenever you're feeling down about writing.

Agent Coulson shares some SHIELD training tips in his post on writing sprints.  He gives reasons (they make you write really fast, for one obvious thing), and places to find sprints (I happen to know that Thor is among the myriad @FriNightWrites sprint leaders).  Writing sprints such as these practically wrote my fourth and fifth novels— I can attest to their success in raising your wordcount.

Would you look at that?  THOR WANTS YOU TO LIVE TOO.  With his customary subtlety, he slams Hawkeye's post into place, adding more gifs and more tips to help you survive.  Trust me, he knows what he's talking about.  (My general tactic is to freeze myself until the people trying to kill me are dead.)

About Thor, though...  Before you complain, or get popcorn (whichever is your custom when I tease Thor), this won't be a Thor joke post, any more than it already is.  Instead, I'd like to wish him a happy birthday.  His alter-ego celebrated a birthday during November, and my sources tell me Thor's official birthday is coming up in early December.  Thus, it's unanimous:

Have a Chitauri sky-whale, Thor.  It's the least we could do.

On with the month, then.  In all these encouraging posts about believing in yourself and not dying, I was happy to deliver the month's slap in the face: writer's block does exist.  But the hand slapping your face also holds a toolbox (this analogy is not working), in which you can find the solution to said writer's block.  Just because it's a problem doesn't mean it has to destroy you.  Just use the tools you have.  (Whew, saved it.)

Guess what?  HULK WANTS YOU TO LIVE TOO.  Thus, he gives you a giant hug.  (Is that supposed to keep you alive?)  Assisted in part by Dr. Banner, the Hulk bolsters your courage as words begin to weigh you down.  He wants you to make people happy with your words, and finish what you've started.  He believes in you.  This is a post all of us need to hear again and again.

Unfortunately, Hulk's hug squashed our other plans for the month.  Black Widow and Loki were unavailable for posting.  I'm not sure how everyone scored in their NaNoWriMo stats, but I know Thor was close, as of November 30th.  Iron Man won by days.  And me?  I got 8k.  Total.  It hurts, but I had a lot going on, and I had to learn a lot of hard lessons over the month.  My respect to all those who won this month, and I wish I could be among you.

If you won or if you lost, it's important that you tried.  Some can only wish to participate, and some (like Stark) seem to win automatically.  Nevertheless, NaNoWriMo is never easy, no matter how quickly the words may seem to come.  If you tried, good job.  And if you didn't do NaNo this year, I hope you survived all the NaNo hubbub.

Next month is Revision Month.  If you have a NaNoNovel to revise, great-- if not, don't sweat it.  These posts will be here for when you need them.  Remember, we just want you to live.

Until next time, fare thee well.  May the words, revisions, and sonnets flow.