Friday, October 21, 2011

What Can You Learn from Revisions?

I’m revising a romantic suspense novel and, in an example of “doctor heal thyself,” using the Plot Outline Exercise in my Advanced Plotting book to analyze what I have so far and what I still need to do. These are final revisions, so I’m not making a lot of plot changes at this point, but I’m drawing more out of the heroine and giving her some epiphanies, which is deepening both her character arc and the theme.

After doing the Plot Outline Exercise, I started studying the essay on Plotting like a Screenwriter by my brother, Doug Eboch. He discusses the Dramatic Question and how the character should have a dilemma. Since this novel is more of a “woman in peril” story in the style of Mary Stewart and Barbara Michaels, where the main character doesn’t realize at first that she’s stumbling into a dangerous situation, I had to ask myself about her initial dilemma. Some creepy and mysterious things happen in the first third of the book, but she’s not yet actively trying to solve a specific problem, since she doesn’t know what the problem is.

Still, she does start the story with an initial dilemma, based on her back story. She’s recovering from an attack and the subsequent abandonment by her boyfriend, who couldn’t handle the situation. She’s trying to overcome her instinctive fears, find her independence, and ease herself back into normal life, including opening up to the chance of new love.

So the Dramatic Question doesn’t on the surface have anything to do with the villains who are causing trouble. Rather it’s, “Will Kiley be able to face her fears and embrace life again?” The bad guys do provide obstacles, though, by tricking (betraying) her and exposing her to dangerous and frightening situations. This is the external journey that reveals her internal journey. If she can handle these troubles, she’ll have proven to herself that she can face her fears and live normally again.

For this novel, at this stage of revisions, following Doug’s advice about plotting structure just means noticing and emphasizing certain points. For example, he discusses the Midpoint. In a  movie with a happy ending, the Midpoint echoes that ending with a moment of seeming success (to be followed by a major setback and Moment of Apparent Failure at the Act 2 Break).

I looked over my plot outline and saw that I had good midpoints for both the action plot and the romance, conveniently in consecutive chapters close to the middle of the novel. I could emphasize these successes by having Kiley acknowledged them more. She’s starting to recognize the bad guy and decides to cut ties with him. She also starts to realize the strength of her feelings for the hero. These successes will be balanced by the failures at the Act 2 Break, where the bad guy drags her back into trouble, and where she thinks the hero may have been killed. By having Kiley more aware of her feelings at the midpoint, it raises the stakes. She recognizes that she wants the hero and will lose something important if she doesn’t get him.

These aren’t major, obvious changes. I suspect that if I gave the new draft back to my critique group, they wouldn’t even notice what I’ve done. But I bet it will make a difference in the emotional power of the novel.

By exploring my story through revisions, using analytical tools to help me dig deeper, I learned more about my main character, and I can help her learn more about herself – resulting in a more powerful experience for the reader.

Douglas J. Eboch is a writer, screenwriter and director, best known for writing the original screenplay for Sweet Home Alabama. He contributed a fabulous essay to Advanced Plotting, and he has a great screenwriting blog called Let’s Schmooze, where I find lots of helpful advice for novelists as well. He has also written creative content for a Facebook game called Nightmare Cove, an interactive horror story game. Log into your Facebook account and play it now!

Advanced Plotting is designed for the intermediate and advanced writer. If you struggle with plot or suspect your plotting needs work, this book can help. Use the Plot Outline Exercise to identify and fix plot weaknesses. Learn how to get off to a fast start, prop up a sagging middle, build to a climax, improve your pacing, and more.

Chris also writes romantic suspense as by Kris Bock. Visit to learn about her book Rattled, and to read the first three chapters.


  1. Great article, Chris. You've got me thinking about my midpoints. As Donald Maass would say we should add tension to every page and always increase conflict. I can see how your character trying to grow and change could also cause internal conflict. Sometimes we don't want to change. Good luck with your revisions. Sounds like a great story!