All About Editing: Plot

Hi everyone,

This is the first installment of a little series all about editing. The series will be based on my personal self-editing process, but will hopefully give you some ideas that you can apply to your own. It’s not a guideline or a set of rules–just an example of one person’s way of doing things. Always make sure you save every version of your draft!

Today’s topic is Plot, or the Substantive Edit. This is the first stage of my editing process, as well as the most painful, and the most rewarding. Below are three steps I take to stay sane and focused while tightening my manuscript. 

 

1.  Write a list of all the things wrong with your plot

Sounds fun, right? These are the things you always knew had to change eventually. Now is the time to make them squirm in the spotlight.

After I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I set it aside for a few days. During this little break, I compiled a list of every scene, plot point, character, and chapter that I wasn’t happy with. Gimmicks, coincidences, boring scenes, illogical reactions. I didn’t go easy on myself. It was liberating in a way, because it was the first time I forced myself to look at the major flaws, rather than glossing over them in fear of not making my target word count. These flaws were the things that spoiled my manuscript, and made me think the whole thing was worthless. I thought the list would make me feel terrible about myself as a writer, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, when I saw a physical list of all the flaws, I realised that I wasn’t unhappy with everything. The list made me feel in control, and showed me exactly what I had to do to improve.

Examples of things on my list: Opening of Chapter 3, Travis (the whole character), Chapter 7, Chapter 9, Chapter 13, The phone call in Chapter 20, etc.

2. Fix or delete?

Some things just have to go. Like Travis. He served no purpose as a character, except to create a problem for the protagonist later down the road. I found that a lot of the plot flaws in my manuscript came in groups. Travis was a plot device, for a plot point that was weak anyway. I deleted both Travis and that plot point, and found another, stronger way to bring across the information I was using him for. Although it was painful and time consuming, deleting Travis fixed more than one of the problems on my list. I was tempted to add him to a couple more scenes, and try to add depth to his character instead of deleting him. The more I tried, however, the more obvious it became that deleting him and the events involved with him was the only way to improve the plot’s cohesiveness.

I think the tip here is to try everything out. Have the original version of your draft saved, and in the second draft, delete what you want to delete, and change what you want to change. Don’t stop until you’re content with it.

3. Ask the hard questions

Does that backstory need to be there? Does that chapter add anything to the plot or the character? Is that logical? Does the climax happen too early/late? Is the resolution too predictable, obvious, abrupt, coincidental, etc? Does that character serve a purpose? Would your protagonist make that mistake?

If you read a lot of books, you most-likely already know the answers. For me, it was a matter of not allowing myself to dodge the questions.

 

Thank you so much for reading, and good luck with your manuscript!

– Tamara

Update – Issue #2 of Spinebind – Ideas

Hi everybody,

I hope you’re all doing well. I am up in Cairns visiting family, and am finally getting some much-needed down time. For any of my new readers out there, I’m the editor of a literary magazine called Spinebind. Up until a few days ago, my time was all being put towards the magazine and getting the second issue ready. I am so happy with how it turned out. The response to the second issue has been great so far, and it’s so nice to see that people are enjoying the work inside.  You can read all about the magazine here!

My own writing has been slowing down a bit lately. I know all of you writers out there understand the feeling of finally having time to work and then not getting anything out on the page. It’s as if all my ideas come along when I’m meant to be focusing on other things, and disappear with the rest of my worries as soon as I have time to dedicate to my creative projects. It’s during times like these that I stress myself out about my future. It’s silly, really, because I know from experience that the flow of ideas always starts back up again. But until that happens, I just keep reading over what I already have and edit, delete, edit, delete.

I do think I need to remember to allow myself a little bit of down time that doesn’t involve writing. That’s why I’m trying not to feel guilty about this past week. But I also think I need to get better at just writing through the uninspired times, otherwise I’ll never finish anything. I’ve been listening to music by Kodaline and The Apache Relay on repeat – their music always seems to inspire my writing – so we’ll see how it goes from here.

I hope you are having a great day,

Tamara