REVISION TIPS – PART TWO – THE SCENIC ROUTE

Last week in my blog post about revision tips  I talked about using your Plot diagrams as working drawings. They act kind of like a map – show you whether you’ve stayed focussed on your story or whether you have been sidetracked along the way. I don’t know about you, but I find this pretty easy to do. Sometimes characters seem to take me off on a complete tangent.

Today I’m talking about revising a story that is less structured and has evolved through a more organic process. My MG survival story, GAME ON seemed to develop as scenes in my head. I spent two years travelling around Australia with my husband and very small children so I guess it’s hardly surprising that so much of the landscape is very vivid in my head – as are the hazards of crocodile infested waters, snakes under the car, heat etc.

I knew who my characters were and what they wanted and draft one was complete. But the story more or less came together as episodes which meant that part of the revision process was about turning it into an actual plot – with dramatic tension, something major at stake for the main character, a climax and a resolution.

I started with a number of visual cues from which I developed scenes

1.            The scene where my character finds out they are going on the trip that’s going to leave them stranded in the Australian wilderness (but they don’t know that yet).

2.            The scene where the kids get separated from their parents so they have to now fend for themselves.

3.            Wild camel scene

4.            Dying of thirst scene

5.            Dingo encounter scene

6.            Snake encounter scene

(I know, that’s a lot of adversaries, but seriously, there are a lot of hazards out there in the outback)
Oh, and I wanted to stick a crocodile in there somewhere but I figured that had to come at the end – after they got out of the desert – when they were crossing the river to try and get to Broome.

REVISING MY FIRST DRAFT

So this is how the first draft revision happened.

1.            List scenes

2.            Revisit my character

  • Who Is he?
  • What does he really want? (to survive)
  • What is stopping him getting what he wants? Hmm, the snake, the crocodile, the camel, the dingo?
  • How is he going to overcome these obstacles?

3.            Decide on the order of my scenes

I had my inciting incident…I knew what was going to happen to get my main character Jack out of his comfortable house and on his way to the desert. The next step was to decide what would happen there. I needed something to radically change for his situation to get a lot worse – this would be the first turning point – the thing that would take the story in a new direction. This was the thing that would force Jack to confront his opponent (nature) on his own.  This seemed like the logical place to get rid of his parents (not permanently – just for the duration of the book).

I needed a bit of humour to help build the tension, so that meant adding a couple of scenes and then it was on to the midpoint reversal. This was where Jack encountered a problem that would change the entire direction of the story. This is where he realises that he’s not just responsible for his own life, he’s also responsible for his little sister, Flick.

And of course just when he’s starting to get things under control, they have to go badly wrong again, don’t they?

But not as badly wrong as what happens in the climax. Here he has to get his gravely ill sister across crocodile infested waters.

So just by thinking about Jack’s inner conflict, about raising the stakes for him, about making things harder and forcing him to really fight for his survival, I devised my plot – I turned my scenes into a story.

4.            Transition scenes. Now that I knew the order of events in the story I had to look at my transition scenes. Did they still make sense? Were they getting my characters to where I needed them to be? Were they giving the reader enough information? Did they allow the reader into the heart and mind of my main character – so they could feel and understand the full extent of what he was going through?

5.            The ending. When I revised the ending of Game On, I looked at whether things had been resolved for both my character and the reader. Had I tied up all the lose ends for the reader? After experiencing such a harrowing tale of survival, was my character different enough at the end of the book from the city kid who had set out on his holiday looking forward to time off school?

WHAT’S NEXT?

These are just the revisions for draft two. While I’m revising I make a list of things to be done in the next draft. That way I have a checklist to follow…and it can always be added to as I go.

As I mentioned last week, this is just how I do things. Everyone has their own methods. I hope some of this has been helpful to you.

I’d love to hear your tips on how you revise. Feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing and revising:)
Dee

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