On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot

I committed 6 weeks to following an on-line course on self-editing the first draft of my novel. I enjoyed it very much and learned a great deal, and when I finished I drew up a plan for the editing. You can read about my plan here. It involves six stages, each a focus for roughly a month on one aspect of the course. Phase one was structure and plot. Phase 2 is characters.

JG Ballard's edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

JG Ballard’s edit of The Crash, tweeted by @johnnyGeller

It’s time to review how it’s going.

Here are the excuses, aka reasons

  1. All the things I had put to one side so that I could complete the course have claimed my attention since I finished.
  2. I have several writing projects –the blog, a co-authored book, writing groups – and these have also claimed my attention.
  3. I have had other time-consuming activities such as joining a panel at WOW The Truth about Ageing and the City Lit meet the authors event.
  4. All the other time-consuming activities such as walking, grandparenting, seeing friends, going to the opera, a day at the spa, all these have stolen away the days.
  5. Spring means that the desire to spend time in the garden has overwhelmed me, until …
  6. … I got this rotten cough and cold.

So it’s not surprising that my progress has not been as I hoped and envisaged.

What I have done

  1. I have decided on a new structure for the novel, which involves re-ordering half of the chapters, adding a new one and moving some scenes around. Not much re-writing there, but it feels like an important decision as well as the right one and I looked at it carefully before the physical task of renumbering consumed me.
  2. I have read lots of posts on writer Emma Darwin’s excellent blog: This Itch of Writing. I especially liked the one about the exercise where you go through the plot looking at fortunately/unfortunately. This reveals where the plot is engaging and moving forward. For example: ‘Fortunately Lorna’s niece came to stay. Unfortunately the nosey girl opened the box of letters.’
  3. 163 Into woods coverEmma Darwin recommends Into the Woods by John Yorke (Penguin), about story telling. It’s an interesting book about structure, and what keeps a story moving and why we tell stories this way. That’s stories of all kinds: novels, plays, tv series, films etc.
  4. I’ve been reading novels recommended during the course to help me look at structure and also psychic distance. I need to grapple with both of these during my revision.
  5. I’m learning that revision means asking questions, taking a longer view and lots of thinking and considering. At this moment, not so much rewriting. I am predicting that this will change as I move through The Great Plan.
  6. And now I’ve started on the second phase, revising aspects of the characters. I have already redrafted the arrival of the second main character. It’s not tight enough yet, doesn’t quite say enough about her yet, but I’ll get some feedback from a writing group this weekend.

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

    Pencils from tree trunks. Have I bitten off more than I can shew?

Well I’m being systematic, which may not be a good thing. But at least I have a plan and I am following it. When I first tried to revise my first draft I had no real clue what to do. Now I feel a little more in charge. Will it last? Oh I do hope it will last.

Do you have any recommendations for books about revising a first draft?


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Filed under My novel, Writing

9 Responses to On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot

  1. Eileen

    Love the edit of The Crash – what an appropriate title and I love the pencils – an idea I want to copy for my back yard with the drift wood I have collected from Chesil Beach. I like your blog too but I have no advice as I have not written a draft novel and I don’t want to. Sounds really, really hard. But I know a bit about editing chapters and I know that I have to do this at least seven times and what I end up with is better, especially in cutting out every single redundant word. Good luck.

    • Caroline

      Ah your editing knowledge is wide and much respected here in Devon. And you are right, editing usually makes writing better. Thanks for the encouragement.
      Let me know when you have your pencils.

  2. HughMc

    Great shot of Ballard’s, Caroline.
    Still struggling with letting my draft breathe. Planning on a full read through after Easter and applying all the great lessons.
    Always impressed with the organisation you bring to your writing.

    • Caroline

      Thanks for this comment and encouragement, and I hope you find energy and breathe to get going after the draft has rested. Look forward to hearing of your progress

  3. I think you have a great plan. What’s wrong with systematic – at least you know which direction your headed in. I am now half way through my second draft but it isn’t going to be until the third that I’ll start making the big changes regarding structure and psyhcic distance etc. For the moment I’m changing the tenses and voices over as well as polishing the prose.

    • Caroline

      Hi Sadie,
      I only meant that we assume systematic is good. But perhaps we should question even that!
      Thank you so much for coming by and commenting. I am admiring that you are anticipating a third draft. I can imagine that checking tenses etc and polishing is taking a good deal of attention.
      I only do my polish right at the end. I find it requires slightly different skills and mind-set.
      Look forward to hearing more of your progress.

  4. Lynda Haddock

    Lots of lessons there for my next shot at editing! Thank you…..!!

  5. Thanks for the update, Caroline. I’m pleased you are making progress, even if it is slower than you would hope. What else is life for but to offer up distractions. All the best with your character rewrite. I look forward to hearing how it goes. No help from me, though, I’m sorry.

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