Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tales (and Tools) from the Land of Revision

I'm revising my middle grade paranormal yet again, and I am really hoping this is the last go-round! Changes include: (1) swapping the snarky tween voice for a slightly younger, more earnest tone ... (2) flipping from first to third person narration ... (3) simplifying the plot line still more ... (4) rearranging order of events to create a more logical sequence of cause and effect ... and (5) limiting the protagonist's freedom (in keeping with her younger age), so that the action takes place over a narrower range of settings.

Here are a few strategies and resources that helped rethink my story (and get up the enthusiasm to tackle it again):

(1) a great article in the June 2010 issue of Writer Magazine: Artful Revelations by Jordan E. Rosenfeld. This three-page article points out the need for the revelations to force characters into action, leading naturally to the next revelation--in other words, revelations must have consequences. This sounds rather obvious as I write it, but this article helped me see how the events in my plot needed to fit together, and what the revelations are supposed to be accomplishing in each part of my story.

(2) I did a quick read-through of a favorite middle grade fantasy, jotting down the important events and revelations in each chapter (revelations are defined as surprising moments that drive the protagonist toward action or change ... a.k.a. turning points). Then I rewrote the turning points, leaving out information specific to that story, rephrasing it in very general terms that could apply to any novel. I categorized the characters as MC (main character), Antagonists (numbered, as there were more than one), and Helpfuls (numbered also). For example, my notes from chapter 17 say:
  •  Antagonist #2 thwarted.
  • More explained/understood about evil plan
  • Helpful #5 arrives
  • Humor subplot with Helpful #2
  • New humor subplot
This exercise helped me see how the various elements fit together and led to each other--and how they were interspersed to keep readers turning the pages.

(3) Plot Squares- if you process information visually, like me, this is a great way to get a look at the structure of your novel. This technique is explained very well in this thread on Verla Kay's Blueboards and also in this post by Suzette Saxton on the QueryTracker blog.

Edited to add: I FINALLY found where I originally learned of this technique: at the wonderful blog of Cynthia Jaynes Omololu, author of Dirty Little Secrets. Check it out!

(4) After I messed around with Plot Squares quite a bit, here's how I made an outline/flow chart of the whole novel:
  • I turned a piece of notebook paper sideways (landscape orientation) and divided it in thirds vertically.
  • I drew lines to divide it crosswise, about one inch apart.
  • I made three pages like this, and taped them together top to bottom to create a chart three columns wide, but very long.
  • I labeled the first column Act 1, the second Act 2, and the third Act 3.
  • Then I began jotting down the main plot events in pencil in the order I wanted them to happen. Act 2, with all its complications, was about twice as long as Act 1 or Act 3.
I did a lot of erasing--and worked on it for about two days--but eventually I had a sequence of events that seemed to flow pretty well. I have made much prettier and more complex templates on the computer, but my messy, taped-together, scribbled-on notes seemed to work well this time. It was already rumpled and tattered (especially after I set it down on the bed and the cat helpfully slept on it) and I didn't have to worry about messing it up.

Okay, back to revising. I'll let you know how it works out.


Kristi Helvig said...

Good luck--I'll have to try the plot squares. I'm also hopefully on my last revision of my YA...but I've felt that way before. :)

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks Kristi. Good luck to you, too! (It has to be finished eventually, doesn't it ...?)

Lynn Colt said...

Thanks for the glimpse at your revisions! I've done a flow chart-type thing to get my story in order too. Helps a lot!

Good luck :)

Ruth Donnelly said...

Thanks, Lynn! Yeah, seeing it all laid out visually does help a lot.

out of the wordwork said...

I am totally impressed with your organization for revision. Good luck with it!!

Ruth Donnelly said...

Ha ha... why don't I feel organized? Hopefully all will come together. Thanks for commenting, Nelsa!