drafting · re-drafting · writing tips

How to Tackle Story Polishing

I’m ready to move to my 6th draft. Hooray! This is so exciting, one step closer to being finished!

So why am I putting it off? Why does looking at my laptop give me chills? Why am I finding all sorts of things to clean and re-arrange instead?

Because I don’t know how to tackle it.

I know what needs checking: Does the plot flow properly? What plot holes are left to fill? Am I head-hopping? Is the pacing right? Do my characters behaviours make sense? Are their arcs fully developed? Do motivations come before reactions?

Because until I locked myself away in my friend’s cabin, with only coffee and a good book for company (yep – limited internet, no TV, no music) I didn’t know how to put these checks in action. Not even the internet was helping.

So, after a lot of mis-starts and a stack of frustrated periods where I thought I was the worst writer in the world, this is how I tackled it. I hope it helps you too.

#1 I labeled each scene with its Point of View (POV)
I’m using Scrivener, so I used an in-line comment to note my MC’s POV in one colour, and everyone else’s POV in a second colour. I can easily suppress the comments when printing for someone else to read, or keep them for me to work off.

So now I have a lot of green tags “POV is Bumpy’s” and a lot of orange tags “POV is Amy’s” or “POV is Amelia’s”.

It may sound redundant, because I’m great with POV. I mean, how could I possibly get something so basic wrong?

Well the joke was on me. Within a dozen scenes, I saw my POVs were all over the place. No wonder I’d been having trouble with show -vs- tell (more on that later).

Straight away I saw where I was head-hopping and portraying information the character didn’t know. I’m even embarrassed to admit I didn’t know whose POV we were following in one otherwise simple scene.

Thank you to Marcy Kennedy for the best explanation of head-hopping I’ve ever encountered. And thank you to Jami Gold for demonstrating transitions between POVs.



#2 I searched for my Main Character (MC) and followed his arc
I already knew my plot holes, so I was tempted to skip this step and get in and change my scenes for their POV problems, but I had to stay focused. By the time I was done, I had a better understanding of the weak points in my story from a POV perspective.

#3 I repeated step 2 for my other major players
This helped me to understand the relationships between all the players, and to try to narrow down the number of POVs. Why should Orville have a POV if he only does it once? Can that scene be told from someone else’s POV just as easily? Should that scene be deleted?


Right of Way?

#4 I drew up a POV map
This helped me resolve what I’m calling the POV Right of Way issue: if I’ve been following Amelia’s, Bumpy’s and Amy’s thoughts and they’re now on scene together, who sees the scene?

Now I know – always Bumpy first, if he’s not there, then always Amy, and if she’s not there then always Amelia. And there’s never a POV below that level. In all, I have eight POVs, and even that’s a lot. I can reduce that later if I need to.

One look at my map, and I know who should be running the scene, no matter which characters are involved.

#5 I checked my scenes for purpose
I went through every scene and asked myself: Why is this scene here? What is it supposed to achieve? Is it achieving that? Is there a better way to do it? When my answers showed a scene wasn’t serving the story, I went straight to point 6.


Potatoes and tomato sauce

#6 I killed my darlings
And it was so much easier to do than in my last draft! With POV in mind, I dealt the death penalty to some of my proudest phrases and snippets of conversation for detracting from the plot.

#7 Redraft
Before I worked through this plan, I had a list of words to search for, and this is where show -vs- tell came in: the words that indicate telling instead of showing, and words that identify POV issues. Here’s a few of them:

happy, sad, angry, surprised, confused, tired, anxious, saw, heard, felt, tasted, smelled, knew, thought, wondered, realised, noticed, decided, watched, looked, was, had, were, felt, seemed, looked… and any adverbs

But changing a poor choice of word isn’t enough: I was just chasing my tail. Here’s an example:

She was bleeding badly and limping heavily. But if I remove the adverbs, I end up with: The bleeding was bad and her limp was heavy. Now it’s full of ‘was’. I could change it again: The bleeding looked bad. Felt bad. She realised it was bad. I’m bleeding, she thought. Ugh to all of these options.

But now, all I need to do is fix the POV while I re-draft and these words drop away by themselves. Try it and see for yourself! Now, I’m in my character’s head. Now, it’s Blood gushed from her wound as she limped to the safety of the trees.

I hope this helps others like it’s helped me, because in the end, I think we all want the same thing: a world filled with good books to read.

I’ll let you know how this all worked out for me once I finish step 7… Yep. I’m still going on that one. It’s long and arduous. But I love it.

In the meantime, tell me what you think – does this help anyone? Is there something that works better for you?


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