Editing Challenge Day 26: Shuffle it Up

This is a new part of my 30-Day Editing Challenge. Start at the beginning or find other days here.

Sorry for the delay, readers; this editing post should have appeared yesterday! To stick to our 30-day goal, you’ll receive two editing tips today.

I’m writing from a peaceful writing residency, thinking hard about my own editing and writing challenges. And while I’ve been here, I’ve had an editing revelation of my own. I’ve been trying to move up the drama that unfolds in my own novel, because things really only get going in chapter five. Five chapters in is way too long to expect a reader to be patient and just drift along through the scenery.

So over the past few days, I played around with shuffling things up. Why did I have to be frozen in the order of events as I’d had them? Why couldn’t the events of chapter five happen in chapter two? That’s exactly what I did yesterday; I jimmied a few pieces together and cut or shuffled others, and bam: I had the events of chapter five in chapter two. Now my novel felt immensely and immediately improved. Things were moving and shaking so much earlier than before. The introduction of a crucial character had happened on page 74; now it was happening on page 44. I considered that a big victory.

The good news is that with short stories, it’s even easier to try shuffling things up. Is your absolute favorite bit of the story, the place where the drama really goes down, happening on page ten? Why not have it happen on page five, or page two? Try moving it forward, and fix the chronology problems with flashback or just by skipping unimportant moments. Do you really have to have that conversation unfold in real time, for example?

Play around with your story. Shuffle it around like a deck of cards. One teacher of mine prints out his story so that only one paragraph is on each page; that way he can freely move things around and see how they fit. Try that trick today and see what it gets you.

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