#3 Revision is a Process
This is Part 3 of a 12-part series on Revision is a Process @ 2015 All Rights Reserved
An understanding of how techniques of writing work in the revision process can help you. – David Madden
So, you've completed the first read through of your manuscript and noted problems with how the narrative flows. Now it's time to look at the other half of The Big Picture, "seeing" the story and determining its theme.
Theme is the point of the story (also known as the "why you wrote that particular story" and not something else). Themes are stated as morals, adages, cliches, etc., but they don't necessarily jump out on the page of a story. For example, the theme of a romance might be, love conquers a hardened heart.
And, of course, that means at the story's plot will prove the theme. You might want to say: "plot proves the theme" a million times because your muse must understand there can be only ONE DOMINANT THEME in order for the plot of a story to work for the reader.
And, yes, this means that ONE PLOT DOMINATES (and all the other "plots" are subplots). That dominant plot goes with the dominant theme, and any subplot will have their own sub-theme in the story.
So, how do you cut the confusion and narrow the story down to the ONE DOMINANT PLOT and ONE DOMINANT THEME? After all, you don't want the story to be confusing for the reader, do you? Oh, you're saying you're confused by the plots and themes you think you have? Or are you thinking you don't know what the story's theme is. Maybe that's because the majority of writing is done by the the Pantser Method. That is, the writer sits down and writes the story, not knowing what will happen until it happens. This type of writing often generates confusing plots and themes. However, there are nine other methods of creating a story. (If interested in the "10 Types of Writers," I've provided a link at the end of this post.)
Regardless of how the story comes into being, the plot and its theme must be clear and flow in some sort of logical time sequence (even flashbacks must fit in). The plot and its theme must also be believable. To insure that, it's best to use a simple chapter by chapter summary or "outline." The revelations of such a summary nets many benefits, one being to reveal the essence of the main plot (and the number of subplots) as well as to simplify finding themes. All of which helps a writer see the story's weaknesses and strengths.
Okay, for far too many writers, doing a chapter by chapter outline sounds like a lot of work because they think they have to follow a formal outline. Forget that. I recommend a "booklet" format, however, some writers use giant desk calendars, or storyboarding, or use a wall full of sticky notes. The how isn't as important as generating a practical look at the story.
For the booklet method, what's needed are either 5"x8" lined index cards or, if using a computer word processor, using 5"x8" sized pages. FYI: 5"x8" is the size of a half sheet of paper. If computerized the 5"x8" sheets can be printed out for use.
Why such a small writing area? It's to prevent getting creative and rewriting the story or adding more characters or ideas. In essence, one 5"x8" page or index card or large sticky note will equal either ONE chapter or one scene in a chapter. In other words, all you need are the highlights, nothing more. Well, maybe a few extras that come in handy for later revision items. Those "extras" go in a "header" for each scene. That header includes:
-- who is narrating (that is, the "who" that has POV-Viewpoint)
-- which characters are in the scene
-- what the setting is (where the characters are)
-- what the time is (day, night, full moons, storms, etc.)
Here is an example of the from my Chapter By Chapter Revelation from my novel KARMA AND MAYHEM:
Chapter 1 Page 1 of 2
Setting: spaceport city near ocean, warehouse district
Time: 2 hrs. before dawn, clear staru night, calm bay waters
Characters in scene:
Celinae (witch #2)
Shelzat (darkon archangel) [a baddy]
3 tormantratas [hell-beasts]
Adrada (Archangel of Departing Souls) [good angel]
Rowen (brother of the Romantic Lead)
Tal (veed to Rowen) [energy symbiote in form of a great cat]
Scene #1 - [opening of the story]
Suffering insomnia, and with her bad hip bothering her, Janay, an ex-peacekeeper, walks the night and inadvertently comes across a meeting of witch #2, 3 tormantratas, and Shelzat. Janay hides until they disband and they never noticed her.
Rattled by memories of previous encounters with darkons and tormantratas in the aftermath of a battle against witch-generated creatures where she and her fellow peacekeepers fought alongside heavenly angels and archangels, Janay goes to a meditation garden dedicated to Adrada to calm her nerves. Only she meets Rowen, a teenage Zantharian warlock holding his veed, Tal. The teen is fighting drugs and a spell used on him. He's trying to get home to his brother, Tienan. When the boy passes out, Janay prays for guidance and Adrada appears. He tells Janay the boy and veed will die when the sun rises unless a reunification right is done by her and Tienan. Adrada leaves the choice to help Rowen or let him die up to her.
Janay decides to help Rowen get home and to do the reunification rite.
***Note: these 176 words covered 24 manuscript pages
Chapter 1 Page 2 of 2
Setting: Wolcott House (Tienan and Rowen's home)
Time: 45 min. before dawn
Tienan paces in his home's office, worried about his brother (Rowen) roaming the night because Tienan knows his brother fits the profile of a serial killer who preys on teenage Zantharian males whose veeds are in their cocooned state.
Tienan is also angry with himself for causing the argument that sent Rowen storming out into the night.
When a rapping comes on the front door, Tienan thinks it's Rowen. When he opens the door, his joy is short lived. He sees Rowen carrying his veed--and behind him is a woman who's fighting tormantratas with dirks that seem to fly like boomerangs.
***NOTE: these 102 words covered 5 manuscript pages
***Additional Note: If one sentence sums up a scene, that's great and the rest of the page is blank. As you can see from the example above, Chapter 1 included two scenes so each scene had its own "revelations" page. Also, if there is a particularly long scene or a pivotal scene you may have an additional page for it.
If within a scene, the POV-Viewpoint changes, then that needs to be noted by simply inserting POV-Viewpoint: (and name of the POV-Viewpoint). This will quickly "show" how often the POV-Viewpoint changes so you can "see" if you have a head-hopping problem, which often causes a jerky flow to the narrative.
I can't stress enough that if you truly want to improve your manuscript, taking the time to do a mini-version of your story:
1) helps you sort through the story to spot problems
2) helps you "see" chapter lengths, scene lengths, sequel lengths, back story, etc.
3) helps you uncover repetitions
4) helps you uncover pacing problems (POV-Viewpoint, or blocks of little action or blocks of too much action - which you might not have noticed on the first read-through but didn't know why the pace was "off" in some way)
5) helps you uncover unnecessary scenes or where you may have gone off on a tangent
6) helps you uncover a need to include or reinforce or foreshadow something
and the Chapter by Chapter Revelations is also useful for checking other aspects of the story and the writing, which will be covered in the next few installments of this series. For example: in April's "The Big Picture: POV-Viewpoint," besides head-hopping, you can easily figure out who's got how much POV-Viewpoint and which dominates.
Another advantage of the Chapter by Chapter Revelations pages, cards, or stickies is they can help you locate information in the story without having to thumb through the entire manuscript. For example: In my latest work-in-progress, I realized a character, the leader of a clan, was to be called by his title, but I'm not certain I had the main characters call him by his title. So, I opened a new file on my computer that I call "fixes-rechecks" and added that note to myself. When I'm done with the story, I'll be able to check. After all, I don't want to stop drafting to go back and look for where the scenes are. But when the story's drafted, I'll have the chapter revelations be able to locate which chapters that particular character was in, check those scenes, and fix things (or reassure myself that I didn't goof up, which is always a welcome relief).
By the way, it's a good idea to keep each of your novel's chapters in separate files to prevent a disaster, like a computer crashes or corrupted data in one sector prevents a file from opening. Smaller files are also easier to work with. Once you have all your corrections done, you merge the chapters into one document for marketing.
Lastly, some editors and agents want a "Chapter-by-Chapter Outline" instead of a synopsis. Which means, if you already have your chapter by chapter revelations done, you need only clean it up, tighten the language, and use it.
*** This blog is updated the 1st of each month. Don't miss next month's: THE BIG PICTURE: POV-VIEWPOINT by following this blog or Connect with Catherine
*** Questions and comments are welcomed and are always answered.
*** LINK TO the Cheat Sheet "10 Types of Writers"
*** Permission is granted to forward a link to this blog or mention it on any social media.
*** IN 2016, these posts will be put into one file for downloading. To be notified when this is available, Connect With Catherine
*** "Terrific Titles—an all inclusive guide to creating story titles" and other Writers Cheat Sheets are available HERE.
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