Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fixing it in revision

I'm a plotter. When I start writing a story, I've already worked out the sequence of events, the character arcs, etc., to some degree of detail. There's always room for changes within those plots and outlines because it's not unusual for characters to inform me that they're going to misbehave. Things generally stick to the outline, though.

Well, except for Hawks & Rams. That one went straight off the rails and tore cross-country for a few miles. The outlines bore only a slight resemblance to the first draft.

Fix it in revision
That's what I said while I was writing it. Now it's time to do it.

Scale to fit
Since I was coming off writing Disciple, I wrote out four different plot/character arcs for H&R. That sort of complexity isn't at all unusual for a big series of fantasy novels.

Hawks & Rams is much smaller, though. I wasn't sure before I wrote it, but now I know that it really is a novella -- not a novel. I know which character has to make the big choice at the climax, and how he gets there. While the other characters have their own trajectories, they don't make the personal changes that my main character does.

Therefore, I only need to lay out one character arc and one plot. I know what paths the other characters will follow, but it's not the standard inciting incident, build to a climax and then resolution that my main character faces. The main plot -- the series of events that drive Heathric toward his personal crisis -- needs some improvement too...

Raise the tension
More challenges, more complications, more tension are always better. Well, within reason. Toward the end of Apocalypto (terrible movie, sadly) the climactic scene for one character consists of her being trapped in a well, which is rapidly flooding due to the rain, balancing one screaming small child on her head (because the water's neck deep) while simultaneously giving birth to the second that she's carrying... I was just waiting for piranha to show up. For a kitchen sink to fall on her. You know, something that would actually be a challenge. (/sarcasm)

Raise the tension without tipping over into ridiculousness. It helps to go through the sequence of events with a fresh mind (because you put the story aside for a few months and worked on something else) and re-consider why things played out that way. What would've been uglier/nastier/messier? What would've been completely unexpected? What would've been ridiculous, so that you know where your boundaries are?

Trying to write a query letter for the story and getting feedback on that can help too -- a fresh pair of eyes and questions from a different perspective can bring up ideas you wouldn't have thought of.

Devil's in the details
The trickiest part of revisions is, of course, all the little things that shift when events change. People are at a different emotional point, they say different things, topics drop out of conversation that needed to be brought up for something down the line... get out the fine toothed comb!

Have you fixed a story plot recently? What did it need?

IN OTHER NEWS: I've landed my first speaking gig! MRW is hosting a half-day writing workshop on October 26th, and I will be talking about world-building and character development.


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

For me, the fixing required a good hard look at my information dumps and figuring out a way to make them much less "dumpy."

Liz A. said...

I'm always fixing plots. Don't know if that's an improvement, however ;)

Although, I finally figured out one character's motivations for the things he does. And that made big chunks of the novel fall into place.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations on the speaking gig! Not that I'd want one...

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