Heidi Schulz: Improving Plot Through Revision and GIVEAWAY

Want to know a secret about me? I don’t particularly enjoy drafting. Even when I work with an outline and I know what it supposed to happen, the act of mining that raw story out of my brain is so difficult. I much prefer the refining process that comes through revision.

When I visit school groups, I often tell them that writing is like building a house.  Your premise and outline—if you use one—is your foundation.  The first draft is the framing. Once the framing has gone up, the building is basically house shaped, but no one would want to live there.

Let me break out my decidedly poor Mac Paintbrush skills and demonstrate.

 

HSchulz_House_01

 

Would you want to live in that house?
It’s easy to believe that the work of plotting all happens in the foundation and framework, but that’s not exactly true. Once you have the structure of a first draft in place, you may find that you want to expand certain sections, reduce—or remove entirely—others, and generally move things around. That’s where revision comes in!

Post-First Draft Plotting Strategies
Reread your manuscript, looking for “out of nowhere” plot elements. Can you plant information early in your manuscript that will allow them to seem more like natural developments and less like deus ex machina?

HSchulz_HookRevengeDo you have peaks and valleys in the action? It can be nice to have an introspective or character development scene after a high action scene, to give readers a chance to catch their breath. Can you reorder existing scenes to allow for breaks in the action?

Writing tip: For high-action, intense scenes, try short sentences. They can help ratchet up the tension.
Trim the fat. Are you starting in the right place? Can early chapters with backstory be lopped off and the information weaved in elsewhere? Can a complicated subplot be streamlined? Do multiple characters serve the same purpose? Can they be combined into one?

Ask yourself: Does this [chapter/scene/paragraph/line/word] move the plot forward? How does it best serve my story? Is it redundant? If you are having a hard time answering, try cutting it. Your story will likely work better without it.

Eliminate unnecessary transitions. Do we really need to see your character driving to school after that tense scene at breakfast? If not, perhaps you could indicate time passing with a scene break and voila, your character is at school, ready to exorcise the demon that resides in her math teacher.

Writing tip: Use a centered pound sign, or hashtag, as the kids call it these days, to indicate a scene break in your manuscript.
Keep prose tight. Cut extraneous words such as “just,” “that,” or what my friend Martha Brokenbrough calls sensory tags: “He watched the executioner raise his axe” vs. “The executioner raised his ax.”

Exercise: Do a document search for words such as these in your current work in progress. How many can you eliminate?
Keep working on your story house. It takes revision to finish the story, to put up the metaphorical curtains and throw out the metaphorical welcome mat. But eventually you will have a place readers will want to curl up in and spend a nice, long time.

HSchulz_House_02

 

Let’s recap things to consider:

  • The work of plotting is not finished once you have created your first draft.
  • Consider places to expand or trim to keep the plot even paced.
  • Be sure to give low-action scenes after high action scenes to give readers a change to catch their breath.

 

Author Heidi Schulz_Photo by Stefani Chabot 2015Heidi Schulz is a lover of pie, a giraffe suspicioner, and the author of Hook’s Revenge, a middle grade novel published by Disney•Hyperion. A sequel, Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code, be out in September followed by her picture book debut, Giraffes Ruin Everything (Bloomsbury Kids), in Spring 2016. Heidi lives in Oregon with her husband, their teen daughter, a terrible little dog, and four irascible chickens. You can find out more about Heidi on her Website, or Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

 

Heidi is giving away a signed hardcover copy of Hook’s Revenge. (USA only) and five signed swag packs (worldwide). If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Maryrose’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

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148 comments on “Heidi Schulz: Improving Plot Through Revision and GIVEAWAY

  1. Sandy Perlic says:

    Great revision tips! Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great suggestions on things to ask your WIP, Heidi. Also, I think your Mac Paintbrush skills get the point across. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michelle Leonard says:

    Love the revision tips! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Traci Bold says:

    Innovative technique for building a plot. I like this idea Heidi! Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Cutting out sensory tags/filter phrases… yes! That’s my next plot revision scavenger hunt to batten down my story hatches.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Lauri Meyers says:

    Nice house Heidi! Hook’s Revenge sounds like a real swashbuckling good time.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Debbie Vilardi says:

    Thanks for this reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Post-draft revision: to tighten up so it’s not so drafty. Thanks for the tips!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rachel H says:

    Thanks for sharing your tips, Heidi!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. julicaveny says:

    Great suggestions! Unfortunately, in my first drafts, I tend to put down detailed floor treatments when all I really needed was solid ground. Love your visuals and wks! Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nadine Gamble says:

    I love revising too! Thanks for sharing your process

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Dawn says:

    Thanks for sharing the revision tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. martymi6 says:

    Like your analogy. And appreciate the suggestions you make. Thanks, Heidi!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jenifer says:

    Liked your post on how to make your ideas stand-up.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. angelcat2014 says:

    I prefer the revision process too over drafts. Thank you for the useful tips. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Anne Lipton says:

    Thanks for a great post, Heidi. Wonderful ideas to lay the foundation and plant information later during revisions. Your piece put me in mind of George R.R. Martin’s remarks to the Sydney Morning Herald: “I’ve always said there are – to oversimplify it – two kinds of writers. There are architects and gardeners. The architects do blueprints before they drive the first nail, they design the entire house, where the pipes are running, and how many rooms there are going to be, how high the roof will be. But the gardeners just dig a hole and plant the seed and see what comes up. I think all writers are partly architects and partly gardeners…”

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great tips. I love the drafting approach. My parents were always remodeling our house when I was a kid. Changing walls and such. I can relate to this post.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m good with extraneous words – it’s eliminating them that’s hard 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. This is great! Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Susan Schade says:

    I love the tip to allow the reader to catch their breath after a high action seen. It’s a good reminder that we are in the heads of the writer, the character and the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. writersideup says:

    Heidi, I’m like you—revision is my friend 😀 Thanks for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. writeknit says:

    Great analogy – who wants a house that doesn’t have walls and paint and flowers, Thanks for the great tips.

    Like

  23. ptnozell says:

    Your focus, and tips, on revision are so helpful, Heidi. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge & techniques.

    Like

  24. MaDonna says:

    Thanks for all the revision strategies.

    Like

  25. Avast Heidi, methinks of a Pirate Giraffe when I read your post. Aaaargh.

    Like

  26. Priya says:

    Very useful to work on my revision

    Like

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