Friday, January 14, 2011

Novel Revision

One of the biggest challenges of revision is to keep the whole, overall plot arc and character arc in your mind while you're looking at individual pages. I developed a Plot Arc Exercise for a workshop I taught on novel revision. This is a powerful tool for seeing where you may have holes to fill in your manuscript, where you can cut boring parts, and where you need to make changes.

It's a lengthy process, so I'll be going over it for the next several weeks. If you have a manuscript ready for revision, dive right in! Otherwise, make a note of where to find this for when you are ready to revise. 

Note: this exercise is also great for analyzing an outline before you ever start writing. I believe that by writing a detailed outline of my most recent work in progress, and analyzing it using this exercise, I saved about two drafts worth of revision. Not everyone works from outlines, but if you do, give this a try.

  • Write a one or two sentence synopsis for your manuscript. 

  • Define your goal. For example, you might want to entertain boys who are reluctant readers, write a beautiful literary novel of the kind that wins major awards, explore a social problem and ways to address it, or write a quick, fun beach read.

  • Define your theme. It's all right if you aren't sure yet, but start narrowing your focus. Are you trying to say something about family? Romantic relationships? Taking risks? Finding the courage inside yourself? (I'll address theme in more detail in future posts.)

  • For every chapter (or scene, if you write long chapters with multiple scenes), write a sentence or two describing what happens. Note the number of pages in that chapter or scene. Leave three or four blank lines in between each chapter, for your notes.

  • For each scene/chapter, list the emotions you’ve portrayed. Underline or highlight the major emotion.

  • Look at your subplots – use a different color for each one and make a note of what happens in each chapter where they appear.

EXAMPLE: Here's an example from adult novel I recently finished:

Synopsis: When Joanna finds the clue that will lead her to a cave full of treasures lost in the American southwest for over a century, she's pulled into a world of action and danger beyond anything she's imagined in her quiet life.

Goal: to write an action-packed romantic suspense novel full of outdoor adventures in the New Mexico landscape, with a strong thread of romance.

Theme: You don't know what you are capable of -- or what you really want -- until you take chances.

Chapter 1: 10 pages
Joanna has found a clue to the treasure that will prove her historical theories. She calls Camie and makes plans to meet. She's on her bicycle when a black vehicle roars out of a side street and runs her off the road.
Excitement, joy, anxiety, terror.

Chapter 2, scene one: 5 pages
Joanna, semi-conscious, feels hands on her and hears vague voices, then the sound of an engine driving away. When she manages to open her eyes, she's alone.
Pain, confusion, determination.
(No subplots yet.)

It takes a while to write this kind of synopsis, so I'm going to stop here for now. Next week, I'll explore how to analyze your plot synopsis for conflict!


Blockbuster Plots for Writers suggests that "Stories can either be character-driven or action-driven…. The goal in writing a compelling story that brings pleasure to the reader or audience is to have a balance between character and action.” You can take their test to determine whether your manuscript is stronger with “Character Emotional Development” or “Dramatic Action.” That gives you guidance into where you need to spend your initial revision time.

See my post “Plotting Questionnaire” from 4/16

1 comment:

  1. Be sure to follow up with the other posts on this topic, or download the Plot Art Exercise from my website,