Recently, Rachna Chhabria, a writer friend from India suggested I blog about revising.
Seeing as I’ve spent the last few months revising a YA mystery thriller and an MG survival story, this seemed like a really good idea.
There are two ways I create novels. One is to plan every major plot point and graph them on a plot diagram. The other is to identify the important bits like inciting incidents (the piece of action that starts the character on a new path), turning points, midpoint reversal (where the story changes direction) and the resolution. This is how I wrote my MG survival story, allowing the plot to evolve as I wrote it.
What I’ve realised recently is that I revise differently depending on the method I’ve used to create the story in the first place. When it comes down to it, there are no ‘rules’ in writing or revising – this is simply what works for me.
This week I’m going to talk about revising my YA mystery thriller, THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER, a novel with a straight narrative arc. In this story, 17 year-old Lia Palmer sets out to discover how her sister Mindy really died. This novel was carefully planned and structured so the plot diagram was like a working drawing that I could go back and examine to see what needed fixing.
Right from the start, I knew how I wanted the book to end so the structure involved creating a series of events leading up to the climax of the novel – events that would build tension and bring the reader closer to the main character.
As I revised, I looked back at my plot arc and at each individual event and asked myself these questions.
- Did it carry enough weight in the story?
- Did it occur in the right sequence?
- Was it essential to the plot?
- Did it reveal information about the main character that the reader needed to know?
- Did it reflect the main characters needs and desires?
- Were the obstacles realistic?
With this particular story I found that mapping it on a plot diagram was the right way to go. It allowed me to follow the progress of the story. Being a mystery/suspense meant that every event was crucial to the story. Every thing that happened had to have a reason for being there.
For a story like this, I’ve found that a plot diagram works really well because even if I think of a new conflict for my character, it can easily be added to the diagram by way of a ‘post it’ note as you’ll see from the pics in this post. The plot diagram gives me a snapshot of exactly what’s happening in my story – it gives me an overview.
So when I’m revising this kind of book, that’s how I look at structure to see if it’s working.
Author, Bren MacDibble says The problem I find with structure is that you can get it so wrong but you’ve covered it with such beautiful skin you’re reluctant to hack into it.
This is so true. When you’re revising, it’s hard to stand back and be objective about your own work – to tell yourself, this story is beautifully written but it’s not interesting or important enough to hook the reader. That’s where writers groups and crit buddies come in. It can take you a while to find the right one but it’s worth it.
Another writer friend, Shevi Arnold suggested a great technique for more detailed revision. She rewrites the same scene three times and picks the best one. This is a great way of working out if your dialogue, setting and characters are really working for you as they should be.
In the early drafts of THE SECRET LIFE OF MINDY PALMER I found I had flat scenes in my novel where nothing was really happening but they needed to be there to get my characters from one place to another – I guess these were the transition scenes. Shevi’s method really works for invigorating these flat scenes. Thanks, Shevi.
I’m focussing on structure in these revision posts because to me, that’s one of the most important things in your novel. From my experience, if you have a great story idea, editors and publishers will work with you to fine tune the detail. If you write beautifully, but your story idea is not engaging, it’s going to be a lot harder to make your novel work.
REVISION TIPS – PART TWO: Next week at Tuesday Writing Tips I’m going to look at revising a story that is less structured and has evolved through a more organic process.
I’d love to hear your revision tips. Feel free to share them in the comments section of this post.