Last week, fellow YA author and blogger Julie Musil wrote a terrific post on how to use a spreadsheet analyze and improve your novel’s plot: Performing Plot CPR. If you haven’t read it, check it out. In this post, she provides a framework for getting the big picture of your work in progress so you can see what works, what doesn’t, and what you can cut without regrets.
Photo courtesy of GollyGforce on Flickr Creative Commons
I, too, am deep in the rewrite process—and rewriting a 300-page novel, even one that’s already been through multiple rounds of rewriting and revision is an elephant-sized task. When I try to take on the whole thing at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed.
However, there’s a time-honored technique for tackling any immense task or problem: divide it into smaller pieces and work on one at a time. Julie’s post explains one way to identify individual story elements where you can focus your efforts, and I want to share another technique: tracing individual story “threads” to make sure that each progresses smoothly and logically throughout the book.
After all, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
What is a story thread? Any information, relationship, or sequence of events that unfolds gradually during your book. For instance, in my rewrite I’m tracking the following threads:
- Cass’s conflict with Jen
- Information about the research station and its history
- Backstory and explanation for the paranormal element
- Romance element between Cass and Jason
- Unfolding (and often conflicting) information about how Cass’s parents died
In order to analyze these individual threads, I create a list with the following information for each chapter:
- Information revealed/changes that occur
- Resulting emotion/attitude
Sometimes I need to track more information, in which case my list becomes a spreadsheet, where I add one or all of the following columns:
- Single-phrase chapter summary (for ex: on boat to Rodger’s Island, reveals reason for visit)
- What the character now believes (if the thread pertains to a mystery or unfolding information)
- What the character now desires
I find this technique particularly helpful for complicated plots, or for a book where I’m so familiar with plot and backstory that I might not notice when I leave out key information.
What story elements do you track when rewriting? Any more tips to share?