When I first started writing, whenever I would reach a point of climax in the story, I’d break and recap in a new scene. Needless to say, none of those stories ever saw the light of publication. (Don’t try this at home.) It wasn’t until I learned to press into crisis points that I produced a story worth publishing. DawnSinger, book one of my epic fantasy trilogy, Tales of Faeraven released last June.
Interestingly enough, when I received edits for DawnSinger, most of the notes calling for revision centered around, you guessed it, crisis scenes. I learned that it’s not enough to write my way through these scenes. I had to birth them in a process of labor as gripping and demanding as childbirth.
- Intensify: Consider the possibilities. What could happen that would raise the stakes?
- Visualize: Close your eyes and let yourself “see” the action unfold. What does your character see, hear, smell, taste, feel and understand? How can you grip the reader?
- Clarify: Is there any information you’ve forgotten to provide because you take it for granted? If you’ve kept backstory to a minimum, you especially need to make this check.
- Clean up Dialogue: It’s easy to overdo use of action in place of dialogue tags. Can you give dialogue a better flow by cutting out extra beats not needed to identify a speaker? Less is more.
- Remove Purple Prose: There are places in a story for lyricism, but if it impedes the flow of your crisis scene, cut it.
- Adjust its Length: Decide how much “territory” your crisis scene needs based on its importance to the overall story. Is it too long or short? Sometimes you can combine scenes for more punch.
- Read for Pacing: Does your scene move at the appropriate pace for its subject matter and place in the story?
Facing up to crisis scenes is both terrifying and exhilarating, like tightrope walking without a net or riding a bucking bronco. It takes “true grit,” because the person looking down the literary “gun barrel” at you is yourself. But when you do it, your story will come alive like never before.
Important Note: It takes time and energy to develop a plot and create a first draft, but writing a novel doesn’t end there. A writer tells the same story over and over again through each of its revisions. In light of the need to produce excellent manuscripts quickly in order to survive in the publishing wilds, learning to edit well is imperative. If you haven’t already claimed your free copy of my guide, How to Edit: Checklists and Guidance for Fiction Writers, now is a good time to do so.