Thursday, September 11, 2014

Speed Up Your Writing

Do not Pass Go, Do not Collect $100

by Suzanne Cordatos

What is the fastest way from Point A to Point C? Generally speaking, a straight line through Point B does the job. Like pawns in a board game, characters move from one point to another around the story—but their writers should be warned. Mobilizing a main character from the breakfast table to school to a post-game pep rally should not, literally, take all day.

I’m a wordy writer. My first drafts are complicated affairs with blow-by-blow action determining what each limb is up to (“with one hand, the protagonist did x but with the other, he did y!) and so on. Boring! It is not necessary (or desirable) to report every turn of the doorknob between Point A and Point C (unless, of course, the knob-turning is a vital part of the suspense you are creating). 

Is it part of the game? If not, skip it. A bored reader is not a page-turning reader. A bored reader is not a book-buying reader. The writer holds the cards. In the game of Monopoly, for example, Chance cards direct players to skip entire sections. Go to Jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $100. Translation for writers? Imply action.

Scene Breaks
A few extra lines of white space separate one scene from a new one, marking the passage of time, a change of location, mood, end of thought, and a new beginning of some sort. Anyone who has been to school knows that a locker scene or cafeteria scene implies a school day. No need to talk about Period 3. It gives readers a rest for the eyes, permission granted to put the book down for a snack—or better, a chance to anticipate what might happen next.

Section breaks
Three asterisks (or other simple art) centered above the break indicates a stronger change than time, mood or location. A section break is more definite and is often used to mark a different character’s point of view. It keeps the momentum of a chapter going but lets the reader see it from another angle. Next time you read a book that moves along at a good clip, notice scene and section breaks. Chances are excellent the writer is using them to great effect.

Practice “Writing down the page” 
Brainstorm your protagonist’s next move in a quick list is another technique to speed things up. Without bothering to write out complete sentences or scenes, you'll see where the ideas take you. Quickly list the steps of a scene down a page. Bogged down with details? Determine which are necessary to the plot, which can be implied. Skip some, imply some, move it along. Now, you're ready to write out your game-changing sentences.

Breakfast table to School to Pep Rally  Writing down the page lists prove that my character's day has too many details that prevent the reader from getting to the exciting pep rally. Forget Mom’s complete breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast with butter and jam and a tall glass of milk if it not key to the story. Instead, the character throws on his backpack, grabs a muffin and Mom’s hug and uses the bus ride to munch the muffin while mulling over his hopes—and fears—for the pep rally. Next?
<<Scene Break>> Something happens at his locker during the school day that foreshadows his hopes getting brighter—or fears getting stronger.
<<Section Break>> From another friend or foe’s point of view, we get another glimpse of the plans.

The reader is anticipating what will happen at the pep rally in the next chapter!

Have you found it easy to imply action and move it along with scene/section breaks? How long are your chapters? Are you consistently using a few scene breaks per chapter or is it more random? I'd love to hear how you use these techniques in your writing.


  1. I love this post.

    My writing gets bogged down with unnecessary details sometimes and what a great reminder to trust the reader and keep the action moving.

    Same goes for scene breaks. I appreciate them when reading. Just that little interruption gives me the chance to reflect on what's going on and then dig back into the action.

    Thank you, Suzanne, for your ideas and reminders!

  2. It's always tricky knowing what to include and what to leave out. Thanks for giving this example of using scene breaks to move things along and build suspense for the main event.

  3. Susanne, great tips on speeding up the writing process. The examples you gave are very helpful.

    I can be a 'wordy' writer too. Thank goodness for editing!

  4. Thank you, ladies, for your wonderful comments. It's a rainy, writing day outside today here in Connecticut! Wherever you are, happy writing!

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