Revise for Your Reader’s Experience by Beth Barany
I’m staring at my WIP—work in progress. It’s final edits time. Fish or cut bait. It’s time to make all those decisions I’ve been putting off.
How do I do that?
How do I know if my story is any good?
I need criteria. I need to get really clear about what my end goal is.
Again, how do I do that?
How do you do that?
I want to make the editing process conscious, so it’s not a big black hole of terror.
Over the years I’ve developed some principles that guide me through the confusing and overwhelming editing and revising process.
I’d like to share some key principles with you in the hopes you’ll take them and make them your own. And also because sharing them with you helps me see what I’m doing so that I may better wield these tools.
The main question I start with:
What experience do I want my readers to have while they read the book and by the time they get to the end?
In other words, what am I driving toward?
The answers depend upon the kind of story I’m creating, the genre.
When I speak of a genre I’m talking about reader expectations.
What are my readers expecting based on the genre I say the book is?
Get clear on this. Then you can meet and exceed expectations.
- Resource: Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid (book and site) covers this. Specifically here: https://storygrid.com/genres-have-conventions-and-obligatory-scenes/
Another way to characterize the expectations and get to the core of art and story is to focus on sensory details.
Readers read to feel, to go there.
We writers transport our readers evoking through words sensory details:
pictures, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings—physical and emotional.
What is the flavor, smell, feeling, soundscape, or taste you associate with each beat, each scene, each chapter, each act, and the book as a whole?
You don’t need to pick from all the senses. Just focus on a primary, and possibly, secondary sense.
For example, I’m writing a science fiction mystery with strong romantic elements. I knew I was creating this kind of book (and series, as I’ve written 4 books) from the start, but I needed to decided what proportions of each and what the reader expectations were for each.
During my first editing pass, I realized that I was creating a police procedural, with a science fiction backdrop where I could question society, all mixed with a secondary romance plot that impacted the resolution of the mystery.
The feeling I am exploring is grief: a bittersweet flavor, and the physical sensation of free falling yet at the same time being able to act upon the environment — a dichotomy.
The soundscape is a fast-paced jazz with cross-rhythms that sometimes work together, sometimes against each other, a four-three cross-rhythm like in lots of West African music.
Bright primary colors that sparkle and shimmery, reflecting the rainbow at unexpected moments.
Textured and patterned fabric, like a pebbled velour or a woven reed mat or a Scottish tartan plaid of worsted wool.
The meal is an array of tasty appetizers that you nibble at a late night Parisian café with your friends while you sip exotic martinis.
I visit these sensory details as I revise and connect different ones to every beat, every scene, every chapter, every act, and for the story as a whole.
What is your guiding star? What are the sensory details that characterize the kind of story you’re working on?
Comment below to let me know your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear.
(Posted updated: Sept, 5, 2023)
ABOUT BETH BARANY
An award-winning novelist, Beth Barany writes science fiction and fantasy for young adults and adults. Her first novel Henrietta The Dragon Slayer won Grand Prize in a California Indie Author contest.
Based in Oakland, California, with her husband, Ezra Barany, also a novelist, Beth has lived abroad three times — Quebec and twice in Paris, France — and speaks fluent French.
Known for creating rich world, tough and kick-ass heroines, and refreshing romances, Beth creates cinematic stories to empower readers to be the heroes of their own lives.
When she’s not penning rip roaring reads, Beth runs an online school for fiction writers, speaks at conferences and international cultural centers, most recently in Saudi Arabia, and enjoys her many dragon figurines sprinkled throughout her house.
For freebies, excerpts, and more about her books, go to Beth’s site: author.bethbarany.com.