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  • Writer's pictureKevin Rothert

Leveling ⬆️ My Prose

One of the things I realized from beta reader feedback on The Fourth Wall is that I haven't quite gotten my readers into my characters' skin, in the story, and in the world. Instead, readers are getting tripped up by the prose. To combat that, I'm looking for "stage blocking" and certain words that I use as a crutch. Join me as I level up a page of my novel!

This is maybe my 5th or 6th complete draft of the novel however, in this draft alone, I'm doing at least 4 passes on each chapter. In each revision, I'm isolating different tasks.

First is a developmental pass. Because of the feedback I received from my beta readers, I did some major worldbuilding for one of my two settings in order to better flesh out the characters in that setting. This is the major focus of my first pass. Other minor developments include a few plot updates and scene embellishments.

I included a before and after image of the first page of chapter 2 at the end of this document to show exactly what's happening. Most of the changes in this chapter focus on beefing up character introductions with 6 major characters (including my protagonist and antagonist) being introduced.

Before I get into the second pass I go through my document and do a word search for a long list of words I tend to use too often or as a crutch. I don't really worry about any of these words right away, but I mark them early so that I can see them as I'm working. I'll explain more about how I use this word search in a moment.

Second, I'm honing in on "stage blocking". Stage blocking is a theater term that refers to placing the actors in specific positions on the stage. As writing goes, it's not very interesting to read. In my previous drafts, I had this tendency so I'm going through and cleaning up things like "She sat at a table" to something much more interesting like:

"She sat at one of the many tables reading a book. Her straight black hair wound around her neck, over her bare shoulder, and down her side, with a just-brushed sheen that only Becky could pull off after jostling her way downtown like he had. She posed deliberately with heavily outlined eyes blinking over the book, showing off the cover to everyone in the room. She popped. But in Andre’s opinion, she always popped, makeup or not. Andre recognized the “single and interested” reading position even from his vantage point at the entrance. He couldn’t make out the title of the book, but if it was a proper courtship novel and Becky knew what she was doing—which of course she did—it would telegraph to interested parties whether she looked for something casual with a racier title and cover or if she wanted something more serious with a title and cover that screamed commitment."

One is exit stage left, the other puts us in the characters' skin and into the world.

My third pass is technically looking for stage blocking as well, but now I'm finally looking at all those words I marked. This is what you see me working on in the video. I mark them early because though in this pass I focus on them, really all of these passes kind of blend together, and I like having them marked early on so I can work on them whenever I happen to have ideas.

  • Words like sat, stood, nodded, shook (his head), put, and placed, are words I often use in my stage blocking and marking them helps me find the cases that aren't as obvious to me.

  • Because, so, and was are indicators that I'm using exposition, that I'm telling the reader something and I try to get rid of them by turning those sentences into story. Showing instead of telling.

  • It, that, and this are words I use too often, and usually what they refer to isn't clear.

I don't remove all of them, but I try to get rid of the ones that aren't working or are pulling the quality of my manuscript down.

Once I've done the word search pass, it's amazing how different the manuscript looks. The story could be exactly the same, but the flow is completely different and I find my manuscript is MUCH easier to read. It's also much easier to fit in worldbuilding and character details that felt awkward for me before, so I do a fourth, usually quicker, pass to get in those final details.

Finally, I look back at my beta reader feedback for that chapter and see if there is anything I missed. I've already gone through their major feedback, but sometimes my beta readers pointed out an awkward sentence, boredom, or maybe a concept they didn't understand and I check those to make sure I've handled the issue.

Here is that "before and after" picture I promised:


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