This following is mainly written to help me focus my thoughts, but it may help someone.
Step 1 - Scene Editing
First, read the scene through and edit for flow and readability.
1. Don’t use the same word or phrase three times in a short space or twice in a sentence/consecutive sentences. If you do utilize it twice in quick succession, spread out further instances.
2. Don’t start more than one sentence in a paragraph, or start consecutive paragraphs, with the same word.
3. Vary length, style, and form of sentences.
4. Can you get rid of a speech tag by adding an action or indicate who is speaking in some other manner?
Second, read the scene through again and check for the following macro items (ideally, you’d probably be better off switching the order of these reading since you’ll be correcting stuff on the first go around that may be deleted, but I can’t seem to read a scene without correcting that other stuff first.):
1. Check for vignettes – A scene must do all the following or be deleted (from Make a Scene by Jordan Rosenfeld):
a. Introduce new information
b. Relate to the significant situation
c. Build upon last scene
d. Involve, inform, or affect the protagonist
e. Make the reader feel more clued in
f. Move forward in time
2. Each scene needs to have:
a. A protagonist with a goal
b. Opposition to the protagonist reaching the goal
3. Set the scene – Did you give the reader enough details to visualize the setting? Establish time, place, circumstance, and viewpoint character.
4. Consider physical limitations - Check to make sure that your characters can do what you’re saying they do. If it’s a dark room, how does the POV character see his friend nod his head?
5. Use motivation-reaction units (from Techniques of a Selling Writer by Swain)
a. Character receives motivating stimulus
b. The change (ie motivating stimulus) causes a change in the character’s state of mind
c. The feeling caused by the change in state of mind result in observable reaction
6. Check character reaction order (from Techniques of a Selling Writer by Swain)
a. Character feels
b. Character acts
c. Character thinks or speaks
7. Check if scene is too flat (from Techniques of a Selling Writer by Swain)
a. The goal isn’t well defined
b. The character is too weak
c. There’s no urgency
d. The opposition isn’t clear
e. The opposition is too weak
f. The scene is too trivial
g. The scene is monotonous
h. The disaster isn’t big enough or doesn’t make sense
Third, keep going back through the scene until you’ve made no macro changes and only minor edits for flow and readability.
Step 2 - Line Editing
Start by reading the last sentence in your scene. Check for all the items below. Then move to the next to last line. Keep going until you reach the first sentence.
1. Get rid of all of the words you don’t need.
1. Eliminate all of the unnecessary words.
1. Eliminate unnecessary words.
b. Misplaced modifiers
c. Pronoun confusion
3. Examine use of the following words: was, very, just, could, had, that, looked, begin/start, a little, and any adverb.
a. Was –
i. Are you being passive?
ii. Are you telling?
b. Very – Delete it unless you’ve got a very good reason to use it.
c. Just – Fine as an adjective, try to delete if an adverb
d. Could – This word is weak.
e. Had – This word removes the reader even further from the time of the action.
f. That – Often times, this word can be removed without impacting the meaning or clarity of the sentence, though sometimes a modification to the verb form is needed.
g. Looked – This word tends to be overused.
h. Begin/start – If you have “he began to run” or “he started to run,” consider “he ran.”
i. A little (or a bit) – Using these words a little seems okay, but they’re unnecessary.
i. Generally, Try not to use overly these words unless absolutely needed.
ii. Check if removing them impacts the meaning of the sentence.
iii. Check if the adverb is indicating you’re telling when you should be showing.