REVISION TIPS, PART ONE – USING YOUR PLOT DIAGRAMS AS WORKING DRAWINGS

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.

  1. Did it carry enough weight in the story?
  2. Did it occur in the right sequence?
  3. Was it essential to the plot?
  4. Did it reveal information about the main character that the reader needed to know?
  5. Did it reflect the main characters needs and desires?
  6. 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.

Happy writing:)

Dee

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8 thoughts on “REVISION TIPS, PART ONE – USING YOUR PLOT DIAGRAMS AS WORKING DRAWINGS

  1. Hi Dee,
    You are very organised, and I can see the benefits of this.
    For me, I’m not sure if it would work. I would prob have to get right colour post-its etc and end up not doing anything actual writing, but spend weeks on creating the plot line diagram.
    I read through and find the bits that I find boring (which is very bad when I’ve written it and should be interested). Then I try and work out why they don’t work. And I’ve learned to be fairly ruthless about cutting the bits that I like but don’t propel the story forward, although sometimes I feel a bit of regret. But amazingly after I’ve taken things out, I never really miss them.
    Maybe we all need to find out what works for each of us.
    Alison

  2. That’s absolutely true, Alison,

    Different things work for different people. I put pieces like this on my blog for people who may find it useful but I also love the way it encourages other writers to share their methods and other writers might find these more useful to them than the way I do things.

    Happy writing:)

    Dee

  3. Wow! Let me just say I am in awe of your first pic with the pink post-its! Talk about organised! Really great tips. I am in the middle of revisions and re-revising and almost got lost in the vortex. But I agree with you, cps & writing buddies really come in handy to help you get unstuck.
    Great post as always! :)
    Kim

  4. Thanks, Kim,

    I don’t always plot that way. Sometimes the story kind of evolves more as I go and I find I tend to use a different revising process for that. I’m going to include that in next week’s post.

    Hope your revising is going well.

    Dee:)

  5. This isn’t the way I work (I process everything, much more, under the radar). But I am in complete awe of both of your diagrams, especially the second one. :)

  6. Thanks, Shelley,

    I’m not always as detailed with my plotting and revising, but this particular book is a mystery thriller so the plot logic is really important and so is leaving the right clues in the right places.

    Dee:)

  7. Thanks Dee, this is really helpful. I’ve also used the plot arc, but had not considered sticky notes to move the action around. Your questions are timely as I write my second Dream Seeker book — just what i needed! Thanks again, I’ll be back. Lisa Ard, Author of Dream Seekers, http://www.dreamseekeradventures.com

  8. Thanks, Lisa,

    Nice to see you here. I like to have the flexibility to move things around. Sometimes it surprises me how much better my story structure gets just by changing the order of things. Hope your second Dream Seeker book is going well.

    Dee:)

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