Dynamic Writing Duo

Dynamic Writing Duo

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Domino Theory, by Tia Dani

Self-editing is tricky. For example as the author you are so familiar with your story you could absentmindedly forget to include information along the way...say an important point you thought of but, without thinking, left out.

Keep this point in mind while editing, a reader knows only what you have actually told (or shown) them on paper.

When we go back through our stories during the editing process we try to remember this and work together to make sure that we haven’t left out important details and confused our readers.  Plus, we don’t want our writing to be choppy and sound like there are two writers. We have worked very hard to create the Tia Dani voice.

We call this particular part of our editing process the Domino Theory.

Imagine you have spent hours, aligning hundreds of dominos, narrow-end up, across a flat surface. You’ve placed the black, shiny tiles perfectly so they form an intricate and unusual pattern. Once finished, your finger is poised at the beginning. You tap the first key lightly. With pride you watch as the line tumbles gracefully, one clicking against another, until the formation comes to a glorious end.

Writing a well-designed story is very much like setting up the dominos. Each sentence, paragraph, scene, and chapter must be aligned in your intricate formation. The writing dominos you work with generally are combinations of showing vs. telling, description, view point, senses, mood, voice, plot, dialogue, characterization, humor, and motivation. If any of the writing dominos are off-centered or missing entirely, your beautiful story will fail.

Writers who understand the power of correct placement look upon their manuscript as an exciting challenge. They instinctively study a newly finished scene and ask themselves what needs changing, adding or deleting. Will they need a domino from their bag of writing tricks for a missing slot? Or will they have to carefully adjust an off-centered tile so that it aligns perfectly with the others?

For beginners (and for those who haven’t yet developed this gut instinct), condition yourself to recognize what a missing or an off-centered domino looks like. If time is available, put the work aside, return later and reread with fresh eyes. Or have a trusted friend read the scene and ask if anything seems unclear. Don't ask them to edit, just read for clarity. After while you will begin to see a pattern of how you misalign your work or leave something out entirely. The bottom line here:  Knowledge comes with practice, hard work, and common sense. It is also called pay-attention-to-what-the- reader-sees.

For examples, let’s look at some obvious missing dominos.

Problem:  Imagine paragraphs one through twelve has Katy in the house washing dishes and talking to her mother on the phone her lack of boyfriends. Suddenly in paragraph thirteen Katy is outside washing the car and talking to her dog about going for a walk.

Solution:  Transition Domino. Add a short paragraph between twelve and thirteen to show why Katy ended mom’s phone call and went outside with her dog. Voila! You’ve filled in the open slot.

Problem:  Veronica is home, alone, with only a dozing cat for company. She’s just finished reading a romantic love scene in one of her favorite books and is staring dreamily into the fire. Suddenly Veronica throws the book across the room and jumps to her feet, dislodging the sleepy animal from her lap. She mumbles something under her breath then walks slowly into her darkened bedroom to get ready for bed.

Solution:  Motivation Domino. Let’s say the author used the correct dominos needed to build a believable scene; such as the five senses, description, and mood. However why did the character suddenly throw her book? The author neglected to explain poor Veronica hasn’t had a date for over a year and she feels that her chances of meeting an interesting man are nil to none.

Problem:  A scene takes place outdoors. The day is sunny, horribly hot with no wind. The characters walk and engage in a captivating conversation which has drawn the reader in, yet something feels not quite right.

Solution:  Off-centered Domino. The characters appear to be totally unfazed by the high temperatures. This scene requires one of the five-senses realignment. With a few short sentences the author can adjust the scene to show perspiration dripping from HIS brow or SHE rapidly fans her face with her hand.

Problem:  Envision a scene where Charles is hiking and has stumbled across a rattler. The snake coiled, ready to strike. Yet paragraph after paragraph, the author goes to great detail in describing the beauty of the reptile, the sound of the animal’s ominous rattle and the texture of the sand surrounding it.

Solution:  A 'mis'-aligned domino. The detail, though well-written, is not pertinent to Charles view point. Charles would not be noting sand textures here. The snake is about to strike! Try going back over the scene and weave in some extra dominos so that the emotional dominos and descriptive dominos form a dance in time with each other. It might take some work but will be worth it when completed.

Here are some important points to remember

* A domino line can be fixed at any time by concentrating on one very important rule. For every action there must be a reaction. Use it as a mantra.

* Write down your important dominos and display them somewhere you can see the list. While editing, consider if any are missing. If you do, you'll soon keep your story flow moving smoothly to a glorious end.

* Read aloud. For us, one of the best ways we catch a missing domino is reading our scenes aloud. Tia seems to have a natural instinct for catching missing dominos. So, usually Dani reads the first round while Tia closes her eyes and listens. Then we alternate. Tia reads while Dani listens for missing words. (Dani can catch them in a heartbeat.)

* Print out your scene. When you're truly stumped with awkward domino line, try printing out the scene on paper. We generally do this when we feel something is still off with a particular scene. Sometimes it seems faster to catch a tricky misaligned domino that way.

The glorious end? Once we feel we've aligned our dominos the best we can, we give it a thumbs up send it off to our editor.

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