Re-Visioning Your Story

a series of posts on how-to revise your novel

Putting the Pieces Together

Jigsaw Puzzle PiecesPart 8: Revisioning Your Story

Wow.  It’s been a long haul, but you’ve analyze your story for seven long lessons, from Character Goals to Plot Twists to the End and the Beginning. Now it’s time to put it put it all together.  Finally it’s time to fix it.  What?  You’re worried that you can’t fix it or that fixing it will destroy what you loved about it?  Take a deep breath.  You’ve done your homework, right?  No reason to worry.  You have all the tools you need to shine it up and fall in love with it all over again.

For this lesson you will need all of your notes from the previous seven lessons, a pen and paper, lots of it,  music, snacks and fluids, a three-ring binder or other organizing notebook, and uninterrupted time.  You see we’ve been working on preparing your mind, your muse, if you prefer.  And now, you’re going to tell your muse that it’s time to work.

Supplies

Gather all of your notes and your manuscript.  You will need a large stack of paper and several pens (you don’t want to run out of ink in the middle of inspiration, do you?)  Lay in some easy to eat, healthy snacks and lots of water.  You need to stay hydrated and keep your blood sugar up in order to be your most creative and productive.

Music

For many people music helps focus them as they write.  If you are one of those people, select a song or two that inspires you to write.  Be sure it’s something you can listen to over and over.  If you are one who prefers white noise or no noise, please feel free to surround yourself with an environment that makes you productive as a writer.

My favorite revisioning music includes Escala perfoming Palladio by Karl Jenkins.

Time

Plan at least one whole day, if possible, that you will be completely uninterrupted.  Yes, I know some of you have small children or others who depend upon you for care.  If you can’t get a whole day, you can’t.  Do the best that you can.  Make it the longest uninterrupted time period you can.

The Day Before

Prepare your writing space.  Put your supplies where they are handy.  Your notes in front of you and the paper and pens off to the side.

Read your notes and scene cards.  Read them One Time Only.  I mean it.  You’re feeding your muse one last time. Find the story sentence you created for your story.  Does it still say what you want your story to be about?  If it does write it across the top of your first sheet of paper.  Do not write anything else.  If your mind / muse keeps bringing up ideas, tell it ‘that might be a good idea, keep working on it.’ And put it out of your mind for today.  Put your notes and your manuscript away.  You will not look at them again for a while.  Get a good night’s sleep.

Revisioning Day

This is the day you’ve dedicated to completing the revisioning of your story.  You’ve got your pen and paper, you fluids and snacks laid in, your notes in front of you, your music or white noise or silence going.  Now is the time.  Without looking at your notes, begin writing the outline of your story.  Do not say no to any idea that flows onto your paper.  Write fast.  Do not worry about whether this outline is the same as your original.  Just write.  Ideally, you will finish your outline in one day.  If you don’t, that’s all right, keep the interruptions to a minimum until you are finished. (For those of you who find handwriting difficult, do what is comfortable for you. This should be a pleasure, not painful.)

The New Outline

Written fast, the new outline will have some surprises for you.  You may have thought of new scenes that sharpen the conflict or focus of your story.  You may have some plot holes.  Now you can compare your new outline with your scene cards.  Study the two with an editorial eye.  Decide which scenes will build the conflict, the story you’ve been dreaming of.   Make certain the conflict builds, the pace builds, and your character faces a choice.  Write new scene cards, matching your new outline.  Does your story sentence still apply?  If not, write a revised story sentence.

Your Project Bible

Once you have your revised outline, you need to create your Project Bible.  Revising a novel is a long process.  This is going to be your reference while you do your rewrite.  It will help keep you organized and keep your details consistent.

clippings from sample project bible

Images from Lynette's Project Bible

Your Project Bible will have sections in it for each major character, for each location where your characters interact, any research or photos that you need to keep facts straight, and a timeline.  In each character’s section you will list physical attributes, habits, clothing preferences, pet’s names, backstory, and maybe even a family tree.  In each location section you will have a layout map of the location so that you can move your characters through that location consistently.  In your layout use pictures or descriptions so you know what interiors look like from color, to number and types of furniture, to where the squeak in the floor is.  If it’s an outdoor location you may need to include a topographical map, lists and photos of the flora and fauna that are indigenous to the area.  Don’t forget to include all five senses in this section.  Your research section will have the research you’ve done that keeps your story authentic.  Finally, your timeline section will have the timeline of your story and your story world.  This may need to include the actual, historical timeline if you’re writing a historical novel.  If you are writing a science fiction novel your Project Bible may need to include a section on science, religion, planets, or space travel vehicles. Add things to your Project Bible as you rewrite your novel and discover new details, characters, or locations.

It’s Time!

With your new outline, your new scene cards and your new Project notebook beside you, it’s time to begin the rewrite.  Rewriting your novel will be an experience of joy and frustration, but trust the process.  And no matter what, finish the rewrite.  You will learn something about your writing, your writing process, and yourself that will be sure to be invaluable to you in your career.

And it’s the end of this series of posts.  Thank you so much for hanging in there with me.  And please, let me know if this has been helpful to you.  Even if you don’t finish your rewrite for a year, stop by, tell me how it went.  I’m rooting for you!

If you haven’t been following this series.  Please check out the first six posts on Re-visioning Your Story:

Lesson 1: Re-Visioning Your Story

Lesson 2: Are Your Character’s Goals Golden?

Lesson 3: Twist the Knife Slowly

Lesson 4: Do Your Characters Play Well With Others?

Lesson 5: As the Plot Turns

Lesson 6: Is There a Time and Place in Your Story?

Lesson 7: From the End to the Beginning

You’ve made my day by just by reading my post.  I love hearing from you and deeply appreciate it when  you take the time and care to comment below,  Thank you!

From the End to the Beginning


the end is the beginningPart 7: Re-visioning Your Story

Why from the End to the Beginning? Many writers spend a significant amount of time crafting the beginning of their story. They know the beginning of a story is critical. If you don’t hook your reader, the story will go unread. But did you realize the ending is just as important?

No amount of convincing characters, intricate or thrilling plot, nor vivid story world construction can overcome a poorly crafted story end. And a failed ending of your story will cause an agent, editor, or reader to put down the book never to pick up another of your stories. But a great ending will reward your reader with an emotional payoff. Hooked, he’ll eagerly seek out more of your stories. So how do you construct a great ending? In revision.

First, in order to craft a perfect ending you must understand the key components of the ending of a story: the crisis, the climax, and the resolution.

CRISIS
The crisis is the pivotal moment of your story. Your protagonist’s choices and actions have led her to this point where she must make a final, irrevocable choice. “At the point of crisis,” Bob Mayer says in The Novel Writer’s Toolbox, “the protagonist is forced to make a choice whether or not she wants to attempt to restore the balance that was disturbed by the inciting incident.” She is boxed into a corner and there are only two, specific, concrete actions she can take from here. And she must make a choice.

Robert McKee calls the crisis “the story’s Obligatory Scene. From the Inciting incident on, the audience has been anticipating with growing vividness the scene in which the protagonist will be face- to face with the most focused, powerful forces of antagonism in his existence.” In other words, the antagonistic force must appear to be overwhelming. The protagonist, and thus the reader, must feel the antagonist will win.

In order for the crisis to work, the choice with which your protagonist is faced must be of utmost importance to the character at that moment. He must be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice (whatever he thinks that may be) in order to attempt to achieve the object of his desire. “The Crisis must be a true dilemma,” according to Robert McKee in Story, “a choice between two irreconcilable goods, the lesser of two evils, or the two at once that places the protagonist under the maximum pressure of his life.” In Techniques of the Selling Writer, Dwight V. Swain suggests this should be a choice that forces the character to act in accordance with or against a principle he has held dear up to this point. He says “to make a choice between self-interest and principle is difficult for any of us, in any situation, at any time. ” Once the choice is made, the crisis leads directly to the climax.

THE CLIMAX
All the choices your protagonist has made up to this point have built increasing tension in your reader. The climax delivers the goods in a big, explosive scene. The protagonist having made his choice, succeeds in reaching his goal, realizes he wants something else, or fails to reach his goal. In his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maass says, “Climaxes are both inner and outer, both plot specific and emotionally charged. The payoff needs to fully plumb the depths in both ways if it is to satisfy. ” And the best climax pulls together subplots as well as main plot into a final deciding action. Dwight V. Swain reminds us in Techniques of the Selling Writer, why this act is important: “In adherence to or abandonment of principle, your focal character proves ultimately and beyond all doubt what he deserves. ” And while the reader’s tension is released by the climax, if the story ends with the climax, the reader feels the ending too abrupt. He struggles to guess the meaning of the ending. He has no sense of closure. You, the author, must provide closure with the third component of the ending, the Resolution.
The Pot of Gold at the end of the Rainbow

RESOLUTION
The resolution explains that the crisis is over and the effect of the final decision and action has upon the principle characters. It gives a sense of closure by highlighting the emotional impact of the final action. This can be accomplished through the view point of your protagonist or a narrator. And in the best stories, the reader has an ahh moment when she realizes that this is the ending the protagonist had been working toward since the beginning. However, if the resolution details every character’s emotional reaction, the ending of your story will drag. It will lack the impact it needs. Keep it short. Give it resonance through a powerful phrase, gesture, or setting that the reader remembers from the beginning. The resolution is the reader’s payoff for reading the story. Make it count.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT
Now that you know the three key components of a great story ending. Read the endings of five novels that you love. Examine the crisis, climax, and resolution of each novel. What elements do they have in common?

Next, read the ending, and only the ending of your story and answer the questions below. Remember, take notes. Do not try to fix any of the problems or concerns you identify.

  • Is the action on the page or did everything happen off stage?
  • Did you ring every bit of tension out of it that you can.
  • Did you pull your punches at the end or did you make it difficult for your protagonist?
  • Did you ignore ‘well, duh’ choices your protagonist should have made. Your reader will know and think less of your character.
  • Did you make the reader have to guess the ending?
  • Do you have a ‘Hollywood’ ending, a la the hero finishes hacking the bad guys to death and the heroine rush to embrace him in a steamy kiss with the sunset/sunrise in the background? Ewww!
  • Did you have someone other than the protagonist save the day, or have him wake and realize it was all a dream?
  • Did you maintain tension to the last possible moment?
  • Did you force your protagonist to make a choice?
  • Did you make the choice worth the cost to the protagonist?
  • Did you build up his desire or need as he moves through the story so the reader believes the protagonist would go to all that trouble?
  • Did your protagonist translate his choice into two concrete, specific, alternative actions?
  • Was it a choice between an ‘easy way’ and a way that would lead to disaster or sacrifice?
  • Did you make the alternative to the easy way out disastrous for your protagonist?
  • Did you keep the ending in doubt by making failure look likely?
  • Did you wrap up any loose ends or subplots that haven’t been already resolved?
  • Was your character rewarded or punished based on his choice?
  • Has poetic justice been served?
  • Did you focus the emotional fulfillment into a punch line?

And now that you know your ending, re-read the beginning of your story.

  • Has the ending answered the question posed in the beginning of your story?
  • Have you planted clues for the ending in the beginning of your story?
  • Is the mood and tone of your beginning echoed in your ending?
  • Are themes, motifs, or phrases from the beginning echoed in the ending?

From the ending to the beginning doesn’t measure up in your first draft? Don’t worry. You now know where the weak spots are. You’re subconscious is already working on the solutions!

NEXT WEEK:
The final post in the Revisioning Your Story series: Preparing for the Rewrite

You’ve made my day by just by reading my post. And I am thrilled and honored when you take the time and care to comment below. Thank you!

If you haven’t been following this series. Please check out the first six posts on Re-visioning Your Story:

Is There a Time and Place in Your Story?

Setting: Week 6 of Re-visioning Your Story

There's a time and place for . . . time and place in your story. When and where your story takes place gives the reader a reference point, or as Dwight V. Swain calls it, " a standard for your reader." Getting the time and place right is like the difference between Sleeping Beauty's castle and Windsor castle.

When revising your manuscript, you'll want to be certain to read through at least once while focusing on how you reveal the story's setting. Perhaps you think you don't need to because "my story takes place in the real world, in a real city, in a real home/office/park." Whether your story's world is based in reality or made-up purely from your imagination, your choice of details revealed and withheld in your manuscript can support or destroy your reader's suspension of disbelief. (And I'm assuming you want to do everything you can to support your reader in this regard.)

Setting is a huge topic. In Thanks, But This Isn't for Us, Jessica Page Morrell calls setting details "a literary Leatherman." And she gives a long list of things from politics to technology and everything in between that are setting details. Robert McKee says in his book, Story, "a story's setting sharply defines and confines it's possibilites." He also defines setting as four-dimensional: including the story's place in time (the past, the future, etc.); the time it takes from the beginning of your story to its end; where your story takes place, and the story's position on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. And Dwight V. Swain remind us of three key points in Techniques of the Selling Writer: “your reader has never been there; it's a sensory world; it's an objective world.” Finally, I repeat: it is the details you have put in your manuscript that builds a convincing, or not so convincing world.

Re-Read Your Manuscript

Remember, you will be reading your manuscript but you will not correct a single typo or word. When you read through your manuscript you need to have your favorite writing implement, your revision notebook, and five colored highlighters. You are going to read through your manuscript and list each different physical location in which action takes place on a different page of your notebook.

Be specific. Write: the living room of character A's house; the kitchen of character A's house; the front yard of character A's house; not just 'the house.' Beneath the location list the words you used to describe this location. If you character moves within this location you may want to draw a sketch of the layout of the room.

First, go through your novel scene-by-scene. For each scene (and transition when applicable) you are going to list:

    Date: What day of the month and day of the week is it?
    Time: What time of day is it?
    Duration: How much time elapsed for the characters?
    Location: Where does the scene take place?
    Conflict: Does this add obstacles or conflict to the scene?
    Details: List the details you have written that give this scene . How many more details did you give for this location?
    Senses: With colored highlighters mark each word or phrase that evokes one of the senses For example: with a pink highlighter mark each time your words convey the sense of touch; blue for sight; green for taste; yellow for smell; and lavender for hearing.

The Story's Setting

When you have finished identifying the parts of setting you have in your story, review your notes and think about the story as a whole. Fill in the same information, but this time do it for the story as a whole.

    Historical time: In which specific era or time period does the story take place? Past? Contemporary? Future?
    Time: What is the year? The season,?
    Date: What month and day is it?
    Duration: How much time does your novel cover? hours? days? years?
    Location: Where does your story take place? Make it a specific location that encompasses all the action of the story. (Southeastern USA, wine country of France, Pacific Ocean, planet Xanadu.)
    Conflict: What elements of the story setting (historical period, date, time, duration, location, and details) adds to the conflict?

Analyze Setting in Scenes

When you have finished listing these things, it is time to analyze the effectiveness of your setting.in each scene. Donald Maass said "use the world as a vital force in which the characters move," in his book, Writing the Breakout Novel. You agree? Of course, but do you know how you determine if you've shown your story world as a vital force? Ask questions. Question every bit of the information you've gathered in your notebook.

  • Historical time
    ·Does the historical time period add conflicts, obstacles, mood or character to your story?
    ·Is there a different time period that would increase the conflicts or obstacles?
  • Date
    ·What does the date and day of the week add to the scene?
    ·Would a different time of day, or day of the week, improve the conflict, tension, or mood?
    ·Would more or less time increase the tension?
  • Time
    ·What does the time of day add to this scene? Think about what makes dawn different from sunset or mid-afternoon different from suppertime?
    ·Is there a different time of day that would increase obstacles, conflict, or mood?
  • Duration
    According to Dwight V. Swain in Techniques of the Selling Writer, "There are two kinds of time in this world: chronometrical and emotional. One you measure with a watch; the other with the human heart."
    ·In chronologic time, how long does the scene last?
    ·Does the amount of action and dialog you have on the page match this duration?
    ·Have you timed yourself as you read the dialog out loud? Or figured what the actual travel time for the distance would be, using the same method of conveyance?
    ·In emotional time, how long does the scene last? Remember Einstein said, "When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it’s longer than an hour." So how long does it feel to your character?
  • Location:
    ·Where does the scene take place?
    ·Is there someplace else that this scene could take place that would increase the conflict, tension, obstacles, or mood?
    ·How many different locations do you have in your entire story? Why?
    ·How do your characters feel about the location? Is it homey and comfortable or a place assoicated with painful memories? What does he love about it? What does he hate about it?
  • Details:
  • In Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us,, Jessica Page Morrell points out that "description does not equal inventory."
    ·Does your descriptions of setting sound like a listing of inventory?
    ·Do the first three things your viewpoint notices give a firm, overall grasp of the location?
    ·What does your viewpoint character feel about this location or time?
    ·How many more details did you give for this location?
    ·Does the number of details you’ve given match the importance of the location or time?
    ·Can you change the impact of the setting (location or time) by decreasing or the number of details?
    Jessica also reminds us "don’t use categories (cats, boxer shorts, restaurants) use specifics: Siamese , plaid boxer shorts, or Sushi restaurant."
    ·Are there other details that would better evoke the mood, theme, visual image?

  • Senses:
    ·Is there more than two colors on each page? If there are two or fewer colors on the page, you might want to add more.

Prepping the Muse

Whew! That was a lot of work in a full length novel. By now, your muse is probably chomping at the bit, impatient to be re-writing. Write notes in your revision notebook. This week you are still prepping the muse. Next week, you will restructure your story.
images from copyright free photos dot org dot uk

Which of the part(s) of setting did you excel at in your manuscript?
Which part(s) did you discover were weaker?

I love hearing from you, but whether you comment or not, thank you for spending time with me.

ETA: Additional posts on Re-visioning Your Story

    Lesson 1: Re-Visioning Your Story

    Lesson 2: : Are Your Character’s Goals Golden?

    Lesson 3: Twist the Knife Slowly

    Lesson 4: Do Your Characters Play Well with Others?

    Lesson 5: As the Plot Turns

    Lesson 6: above

    Lesson 7: From the End to the Beginning

    Lesson 8: Putting the Pieces Together