If you’re going back to edit a full novel, especially if it’s an early work, you’re probably facing down what I call the drunken cat plot. It wanders back and forth and here and there. It goes in circles and flops down wherever the hell it wants. If this was a sobriety test, kitty would be in handcuffs in the back of the cop car by the second chapter.
Now, some plots can’t be saved, just leave ’em in the slammer. But, there could be a solid plot within that mess, and that’s where you bring in the lawyer to get them out… er, doctor. Okay, this metaphor is falling apart 🙂 You bring in these steps. They bear a striking resemblance to plotting out a novel before you write it, because you’re basically going back to rewrite, but you already have your characters and probably have figured out a voice through writing it. Stick with those and focus on plot for now.
1. Write the Blurb. Tell yourself in one sentence, aim for under 30 words, what it’s about. (Good article on how to write log lines, aka blurbs, here: Your Novel in One Sentence.)
2. Write down the paragraph or two synopsis, basically what you’d see on the back of a book. This is fleshing out your log line.
3. What’s the underlying meaning/feeling you’re going for? The theme? Love, survival, betrayal, redemption? Basically, what’s it about on a deeper level.
4. What’s the main conflict? This is where you’re really nailing down the plot. What’s the string that goes through the entire book?
5. How will it end? If you know your ending, you know what you’re working towards, what the string going through the story is going for, and you can better figure out what’s irrelevant to the plot.
6. How do you want your characters to change and grow during the story? What lesson do they learn?
7. Go back to the beginning. What’s your inciting event? What makes the story take off and pushes the main characters into action?
8. What are your subplots? These should tie into the main plot and/or character development. A lot of urban fantasy authors put in romance subplots, for example.
8. Start the surgery, meaning go in and cut out everything that is not directly related to the main plot line going through the story or the subplots (which again, should all tie into the main plot and character development anyway) and put your inciting incident in the first chapter. Don’t delete the cut parts! Just take them out and put them in their own document. You may find them useful later.
9. Once you have it cut to its bones (yes, you may be left with a skeleton plot, it’s okay) go through and smooth out the transitions between the parts and add flesh where needed (like fixing the writing, adding info that was lost, beefing up characters and descriptions). That’s your new rough draft.
Happy Writing 🙂