On Revision: Stage 1 (Plot Review)

“One’s mind, when stretched by new ideas, never regains its original dimensions.”

 –  Oliver Wendell Holmes

 

Hi, all! I hope everyone is having a relaxing winter break.

I am myself, apart from being sick, and I’m using the time to work on revising my manuscript. And of course, if I’m working on my manuscript, you know I’ll be spending adequate amounts of time procrastinating, directing my creative energies elsewhere…this blog, for instance.

Today, I talk about “Stage 1” of revising a fiction manuscript. In my intro to this, I broke the process down into three stages: Plot revision, wording revision, and the final “flow” read-through.

Plot revising is arguably the easiest of the tasks, because it actually can be fun (or so you think going in). You get to take a step back, look at the storyline you’ve created, and decide how to make it even better. And storytelling is why novel writing is so fun in the first place, right?

People write fiction for different reasons, of course. I do it because I have stories burgeoning from my brain, and I need someplace to put them. Plus, as a teenage guy still in high school, I find it’s one of the few areas of my life over which I have complete control.

That’s not why I write nonfiction, obviously, but the concept is the same: I write because I have something to say. No matter how mind-mashingly boring it might be.

But I digress. Where was I? Plot revision.

The term is pretty self-explanatory, and everyone goes about it in kind of their own way. Some skip this step altogether, some just think through the story in their heads, and some read the entire manuscript start to end to check for continuity errors.

I myself take this last road, as painstakingly tedious as it sounds. I recently sat down and read my whole book start to end, not worrying about wording (though I can’t pretend I ignored every syntax error I spotted) but just checking that everything made sense.

When telling a story, it’s easy to ignore character motivations. If you’re in the throes of creativity and you realize how cool it would be to throw in a betrayal halfway through the story, great! Eureka!

Erm…unless, as you now realize, there’s no reason at all for one of your characters to betray the other.

This is just one example, and trust me, I’ve caught myself plenty of times. I’ve found my share of characters who know things they shouldn’t, do things that don’t make sense, and say things they never would (but they did!)

And now I realize how annoying plot revision is. I have to be “that guy”…the one who reads over the book and says in a nasally voice, “Well, the story was good, but here’s why this part is improbable, this character is confusing, and this part is extraneous. Also, to be realistic, half of your characters should have died around here” (jabs to chapter number with wooden ruler).

An unpleasant task, to be sure. But not nearly as unpleasant as actually fixing these obnoxious errors.

And yet it must be done, which is what I told myself when I sat down and combed through my plot for inconsistencies. I found less than I was expecting, but they were still there, dancing around and clogging up my manuscript like those talking snot creatures in the Mucinex commercials.

And, much like in those commercials, I flushed them out. Then, once I finished reading through, I looked at the story as a whole. Did it start naturally, and come to a satisfying conclusion? Did each of the characters develop as much as I wanted them to, in a way that felt right?

This is another part of revision…knowing your story and your characters. What I mean is this: knowing what expectations you gave people when you introduced them to your characters, and making sure those expectations were met. Of course you want to surprise people, but they also shouldn’t be left feeling let down, like the author got lazy (*cough* Mockingjay).

The book should be like a breath of air: you start by taking a deep breath in, you hold it for as long as you can, then let it out slowly. It should feel natural, as should the story itself.

 

I finished my stage 1 revision on December 16th, for the most part. And now I’m immersed in stage 2—page by page word revision.

I’ll save this cheerful subject for later, though. Happy editing.

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