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.
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?
Do 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.
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.
Heidi 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.