Storybuilder Inc. — Step 9: A Cold Read

When to stop writing

When you are finished writing your draft, you might want to take a vacation from writing. Many writers work on something else then come back to their older manuscripts. While it’s true that this alternation creates much-needed distance, it’s not necessary. What is necessary, however, is for you to switch gears from creator to appreciator.

One way to achieve this is by doing a cold read of your manuscript. I’ve written about cold read revision already. If you want a play-by-play, visit The Writer’s Vinyard, here (though I will repeat the content of that post here for convenience). Otherwise, if you want more about the rationale behind it, you can visit my guest post on Scarlett van Dijk’s blog, here.  What the cold read allows you is the chance to rest from writing and the chance to get a different perspective on your work, without unplugging you from your project.

Of course, you might just want a break, in which case that’s fine. I took a one week break when I finished my current novel. After one year of hard work, every day, I couldn’t think about writing at all. I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment, and slowly built up the urge to jump back in to the next stage.

Whether you write something else or jump in right away, doing a cold read as a first step is a great tool for restraint. Revision is a difficult process in that it involves making small alternative decisions long after you made your original ones. Often, the best changes made in revision are very subtle and have more sway than large ones. How do you appreciate what changes to make? You need to see your story as a whole, and that’s where the cold read comes in.

Getting started:

1) Save your story in .epub format, then put it in your Kobo or Kindle. (If you don’t have an eReader, this would be a good reason to go and buy one.) Reading your story like a book allows you to get comfy in a chair, in bed, or wherever you’d otherwise read a book. You can take it with you, read it on the bus, while you’re waiting two hours at your doctor’s appointment, etc. Most importantly, having your story in an eReader gets you away from the computer where, even if you read it in .pdf, you might be tempted to open the Word file and make changes to a part that bothers you.

2) Have a notebook or notepad ready, and take notes as you go through, in the form of a checklist. Ideally, have a small one that’s easy to tuck away with your eReader.

Once you are ready to go, here are some tips to help you stay on track:

1) Take a break from writing while you are reading. Don’t open the file. Let it rest. If you don’t, then such revising detours will slow the process down, and reduce the vantage point you have of going over your story at reader-pace.

2) Don’t worry about typos or mistakes. This will just bog you down. You will be going over the manuscript later and weeding them out.

3) Avoid writing out the solution to problems in your manuscript. Every time you stop to take notes, you stop reading, which you normally wouldn’t do when reading a book, so it’s important to be taking notes just to stop and give yourself reminders of things you will have to address when you begin revising.

Some good things to take note of during your cold read:

“The pacing is slow here”

“This character contradicts what she said three chapters ago”
(You appreciate this because as a reader it didn’t take the 3 months to get from chapter 5 to chapter 7 it took you as a writer)

“This scene doesn’t add to the story and can get cut back”

“Wait a minute…now that I know what this character does in the end, his actions 3/4 through make no sense at all”

“I’m rambling”

“Info dump!”

“This conversation is stilted and unrealistic. Rewrite.”

“My protagonist complains a lot. Yikes. Annoying! I’m going to have to change that. How can I make her more likeable? Simple fix, doesn’t have to be complicated. Brainstorm 3 ideas, 1), 2), 3)”
(Leave space and fill in those 1, 2, 3, slots later)

Some effective note-taking strategies to speed up revision:

1) Write 4-6 words in succession from the spot in question so you can get there using the “find” feature. I like to put quotations around them to differentiate from notes. I.e. “slammed on the table, churning”. That should take me to the spot in question, and if I have more than one place in the manuscript where I use those words exactly like that, I’d better go and revise that too!

2) Ask questions. This will give you fodder for later and inspire some at-the-keyboard creativity during polishing. I.e. “What does she hope to gain over Gordon? Isn’t she supposed to be high-society? Think about her upbringing…”

3) Suggest later or earlier spots in the manuscript where the issue you are addressing might rear it’s head so you can hop there as well when you get to that part on your checklist. For example, if you are dealing with an explanatory passage and there is another one at the end, as well as some foreshadowing in chapter 2, you will want to go between all of these places to make sure it is all balanced.

Do not revise just yet…

I mentioned that outlining and drafting are parts 1 and 2 of a larger storytelling cycle. There are four total, that being 3, the post-draft integrated outline, and 4, revision. That’s right, revision does not come after drafting! Instead, we resume outlining, now that we have a story told, and will use this post-draft outline as a framework for revision, the same way we used the pre-draft outline for drafting.

And, just as the first step of pre-draft outlining is to think about your story idea through the development of a premise, the first step of post-draft outlining is to read the actual story it became and think about how that story can be refined.

Then, when your cold read is done, you will be ready for the next step: creating subframes.

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Graeme Brown has been writing epic fantasy since he was a child and continues to develop his stories every day. His his first story, The Pact, is now available for

KoboKindle, and other ebook formats through Burst Books.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter (@GraemeBrownWpg) or on his blog:

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4 Comments

Filed under Graeme's World, Storybuilder Inc. Outlining and Storytelling Process

4 responses to “Storybuilder Inc. — Step 9: A Cold Read

  1. Pingback: What Type of Writer? | Fiction Writing For Teens & Adults

  2. Pingback: Checklist | Hand of Ananke

  3. Pingback: Storybuilder Inc. — Step 10: The Key to Mastering Structural Revision | Worlds of the Imagination

  4. Pingback: Storybuilder Inc. | Worlds of the Imagination

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