How to Use Brainstorming to Edit

Photo credit: Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr
So you're re-reading a scene in your WIP and as much as you hate to admit it, something's off. It's boring, or your characters aren't reacting properly, or the tone is off, or one of dozens of other writing issues is plaguing the scene and you realize that the best course of action (even though you'd rather not) is to rewrite it.

I've already written about the importance of reliving a scene instead of rewriting it, and this is an extension of that, because when you decide it's time to sit down and relive a scene, it's not always as simple as diving into the writing again.

You see, the idea of reliving a scene is to write it better than you did the first time. But if you really want to edit properly and accomplish your goal while reliving the scene, it's often a good idea to do some brainstorming before you begin to write.

Brainstorming while you're working on an edit is a little different than initial plot discovery brainstorming, because this time you're not creating the clay—you're remolding it. You already have words in front of you and a scene that has potential, but it clearly needs reworking. The foundations are already there; your job now is to manipulate it into something better.

So how to begin?

  1. Re-read the scene. In order to do an effective round of brainstorming, your writing should be fresh in your mind. While you're reading, take some notes that will help you while you edit — what do you like about the scene? Is there anything you love and want to include in the new version of the scene? Make a note of it. What definitely doesn't work? Make the list as long or short as you like, then move on to the next step. 

  2. Put the writing away. Remember, your goal isn't to rewrite what's already there—it's to relive the scene and write something better. The easiest way to ensure you don't end up rewriting the scene with the same issues is to not look at the original writing while you work on your edit. 

  3. Begin brainstorming. This is when your edit notes will come in handy. Thinking back on the scene, ask yourself what you can do to improve the issues you made note of in step one. If it's boring, what could you do to make it more interesting (assuming you need the scene at all)? If your characters aren't reacting properly, how should they be reacting? What can you do to make their actions more realistic? The golden rule to this step is this: don't settle for "I don't know." If you're unsure of how to answer a question, brainstorm ideas until you've settled on the right one. "I don't know" is not an acceptable answer. 

  4. Write. This step is pretty self-explanatory. Once your brainstorming session is complete and you know what you need to accomplish with your scene, get to work and start writing. And remember—no peeking at the original version of the scene until you've finished writing. 

The best part of using brainstorming techniques like this one while you edit is that you can do it on any scale—whether it's a chapter, a scene, a paragraph or even an entire character arc or sequence of scenes, brainstorming is an essential part of the writing process and shouldn't be overlooked while you write.

Do you use brainstorming while working on edits? What other brainstorming and editing tips do you have?

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