Strengthening a Scene vs. Rearranging Words

by Susan May Warren


Now, what is the difference between strengthening a scene and re-arranging the words?

Strengthening a scene is discovering the emotional significance to the scene, the way it will affect the overall book, and milking it for the reader. Using setting and dialogue and body language and disappointment and WORDS to cut to the heart of a character.

Let’s take a look at the editing process in an actual scene. Below are three excerpts…the original, the edit, and the final product. See if you can see how I applied my editing checklist to strengthen the scene. This is the prologue from In Sheep’s Clothing.

Prologue

Five more minutes and she would be safe.

Gracie Benson hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead, praying desperately her guise as a Russian peasant worked. Fear roiled through her as the train engine thundered through the station. She bristled, watching an elderly gentleman gather his bags, two canvas duffels, and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he turn, and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the train as it rumbled by, one forest-green colored wagon after another. Another man, dressed upscale in a three-piece black silk suit fell in behind him. Gracie stiffened. Did he glance her way? Help me, Lord!

She didn’t know whom to trust after this morning’s horrific events.

The train slowed, ground to a stop, and hissed. Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust hovered over the platform like a fog. Cries of good-bye drifted from well-wishing relatives, for others more fortunate and less alone than she.

Casting a furtive glance beyond the crowd, she caught sight of a militia officer. Fear coiled in her stomach. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, had an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against the entrance doors, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and motioning for Gracie to enter.

Gracie hauled up her jean skirt and climbed aboard.

The train smelled of hot vinyl and aged wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime pooled along the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the entire private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Surely Evelyn’s assassin wouldn’t follow her to America.

Prologue with edits

If the train trudged any slower into the station, American missionary Gracie Benson would be dead by sunset. Five minutes. Twenty steps. Then she’d be safely aboard.

God obviously wasn’t on her side. Not today, at least.

Then again, He certainly didn’t owe her any favors. Not after her fruitless two years serving as a missionary in Russia.

Gracie purposely kept her gaze off heaven as she Five more minutes and she would be safe.

Gracie Benson hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead. , Please,please let her guise as a Russian peasant work. praying desperately her guise as a Russian peasant worked. The train huffed its last, then belched, and Gracie jumped. Hold it together, Grace. Long enough to fool the conductor, and find her berth on the train for Vladivostok. Fear roiled through her as the train engine thundered through the station. Then she could finally slam the compartment door on this horrific day – no, on this entire abysmal chapter of her dark life. So much for finding redemption as a missionary in Russia. She’d settle for getting out of the country alive.

She tensed bristled, watching an elderly man dressed in the ancient Russian garb of worn fake leather jacket, wool pants, and a fraying beret gentleman gather his bags, two canvas duffels, and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he turn, and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the train as it rumbled by, one forest-green colored wagon after another. Another man, dressed mafia-style in a crisp black leather jacket and suit pants, upscale in a three-piece black silk suit fell in behind him. Gracie stiffened. Did he glance her way? Help me, Lord!

Just because God wasn’t listening didn’t mean she couldn’t ask. The irony pricked her eyes with tears. This morning’s events had whittled down her list of trustworthy souls in Russia to a fine point. She’d give all the rubles in her pocket for someone like her cousin,

Chet, FBI agent extraordinaire, to yank her out of this nightmare into safety.

Not that she would give any man a chance to introduce himself before decking him. She’d been down that road once. Never was too soon to trust another man within arm’s distance.

She didn’t know whom to trust after this morning’s horrific events.

The train slowed, ground to a stop, and hissed. Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust soured the breathable air and cries of good-bye The smell of diesel fuel and dust hovered over the platform like a fog. Cries of goodbye drifted from well-wishing relatives, for others more fortunate and less alone than she. from well-wishing relatives pooled grief in Gracie’s chest. Poor Evelyn.

Biting back grief, Gracie cast Casting a furtive glance beyond the crowd and, she caught sight of a militia officer. Fear coiled in her stomach. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, had an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against the entrance doors, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. Please, please. The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and moving aside motioning for Gracie to enter.

Gracie hauled up her jean skirt and climbed aboard.

The train resonated with age in the smell of hot vinyl and polished wood. The train smelled of hot vinyl and aged wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime pooled along the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the entire private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Surely Evelyn’s assassin wouldn’t follow her to America.

Escape from the memories. Surely Evelyn’s killer wouldn’t follow Gracie to America.


Final Prologue

If the train trudged any slower into the station, American missionary Gracie Benson would be dead by sunset. Five minutes. Twenty steps. Then she’d be safely aboard.

God obviously wasn’t on her side. Not today, at least.

Then again, He certainly didn’t owe her any favors. Not after her fruitless two years serving as a missionary in Russia.

Gracie purposely kept her gaze off heaven as she hunched her shoulders and pulled the woolly brown scarf over her forehead. Please, please let her guise as a Russian peasant work. The train huffed its last, then belched, and Gracie jumped. Hold it together, Grace. Long enough to fool the conductor and find her berth on the train for Vladivostok. Then she could finally slam the compartment door on this horrific day – no, on this entire abysmal chapter of her dark life. So much for finding redemption as a missionary in Russia. She’d settle for getting out of the country alive.

She tensed, watching an elderly man dressed in the ancient Russian garb of worn fake leather jacket, wool pants, and a fraying beret gather his two canvas duffels and shuffle across the cement platform. Would he recognize her and scream, “Foreigner!” in the tongue that now drove fear into her American bones?

Without a glance at her, he joined the throng of other passengers moving toward the forest-green passenger cars. A younger man, dressed mafia-style in a crisp black leather jacket and suit pants, fell in behind the old man. Gracie stiffened. Did he look her way? Help me, Lord!

Just because God wasn’t listening didn’t mean she couldn’t ask. The irony pricked her eyes with tears. This morning’s events had whittled down her list of trustworthy souls in Russia to a fine point. She’d give all the rubles in her pocket for someone like her cousin, Chet, FBI agent extraordinaire, to yank her out of this nightmare into safety.

Not that she would give any man a chance to introduce himself before decking him. She’d been down that road once. Never was too soon to trust another man within arm’s distance.

Gracie shuffled forward, in keeping with her disguise of tired village maiden. She clutched a worn nylon bag in one hand — her black satchel safely tucked inside — and fisted the folds of her headscarf with the other. The smell of diesel fuel and dust soured the breathable air and cries of good-bye from well-wishing relatives pooled grief in Gracie’s chest. Poor Evelyn.

Biting back grief, Gracie cast a furtive glance beyond the crowd and caught sight of a militia officer. The soldier, dressed in muddy green fatigues, hung an AK-47 hung over his shoulder like a fishing basket, and leaned lazily against a cement column, paying her no mind.

Hope lit inside her. Freedom beckoned from the open train door.

Stepping up to the conductor, she handed the woman her wadded ticket. The conductor glared at her as she unfolded the slip of paper. Gracie dropped her gaze and acted servile, her heart in her throat. Please, please.The conductor paused only a moment before punching the ticket and moving aside.

The train resonated with age in the smell of hot vinyl and polished wood. The body odor of previous passengers clung to the walls, and grime crusted the edges of a brown linoleum floor. Gracie bumped along the narrow corridor until she found her compartment. She’d purchased the private berth with the intent of slamming the door, locking it from inside and not cracking it open until she reached Vladivostok. The U.S. Consulate, only ten minutes from the train station, meant safety and escape from the nightmare.

Escape from the memories. Surely Evelyn’s killer wouldn’t follow Gracie to America.

Again, the key to strengthening a scene is to tighten it down and pull the most and best emotion from the scene. But knowing what emotion to pull out, the right words to use, how to NOT overwrite, and layering in all the elements can be tricky. 

This year, at Novel.Academy, we’re diving deep into the editing process with a series called Extreme Book Makeover! We’ll be looking at everything from the structure and characterization, to scenes, scene tension, storyworld, dialogue, emotions, wordsmithing and even polishing your novel. Get that course, and over 100 more when you join Novel.Academy. Check it our free lessons and see for yourself!

Your Story Matters. Go, Write Something Brilliant!

Susie May

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Pull the most and best emotion from the scene~ Susan May Warren (Click to Tweet)

Susan May Warren is owner of Novel Rocket and the founder of Novel.Academy. A Christy and RITA award-winning author of over fifty novels with Tyndale,BarbourSteeple HillSummerside Press and Revell publishers, she’s an eight-time Christy award finalist, a three-time RITA Finalist, and a multi-winner of theInspirational Readers Choice award and the ACFW Carol. A popular writing teacher at conferences around the nation, she’s also the author of the popular writing method, The Story Equation. A full listing of her titles, reviews and awards can be found at: www.susanmaywarren.com. Contact her at:susan@mybooktherapy.com.