Once you have a draft, you have to go through every scene and ask yourself, with brutal honesty, “I know what happens in this scene, but that’s because I wrote it. Does someone who has no idea what is going on have the exact same idea I do about what’s going on?”
Just because you know what happens doesn’t mean a reader is going to know what happens. Ha ha, I see this happen all the time!
If you write a scene where a man wants to have sex with a woman, and he’s standing at the end of the bed, and she’s on the bed fully dressed… and that’s the scene out… the fact that you showed him unbutton his shirt doesn’t mean we know, for certain, that they have sex. You know they have sex. But no one else will know, for sure.
If you add a moment where he grabs her ankle and draws it towards him and she smiles, and you end on that image, we will know what happens in the scene.
You have to be ruthless. You have to figure out a way to remove your writer’s hat and put on your director’s hat, or, more importantly, your editor’s hat. You must get yourself in the mindset of your editor, sneering, saying, “What you thought was there, isn’t there. How do you want to do this? What story are you gonna tell now?”
Just because you think it means what you hope it means doesn’t mean an audience is going to understand it.
You are going from your mind to the page and on to the reader’s mind. A very crooked journey, fraught with peril. Easy for me to say. Hard for you to do.
But, you have to do it. You have to exercise rigor in the rewriting process to make certain that when the reader reads it, the reader is going to be in your head.
If you show a character running in one scene and, in the next, he enters his apartment… That is going to tell us that he ran all the way to the apartment. The next, perhaps unintended meaning, is that the apartment is very close to the warehouse. When, in fact, they’re five miles apart… That means you need to write an in-between scene of him walking, exhausted, down the sidewalk.
The reader is going to make it mean what you give them. From reading what’s on the page, they cannot figure out what is in your head unless you tell them: the correct story, the correct images, in the correct order.
This is brutally difficult to do, but, if you keep yourself aware of the problem, you can solve it.