Many authors who finished NaNoWriMo with a complete story are now beginning the revision process. This year, I wrote most of an unplanned novel, one I had no intention of writing, and therefore I had no outline.
In the rush of laying down those ideas, I wrote many scenes that will need to be moved to a more logical place in the story arc or cut altogether. Still other scenes don’t yet exist and will need to be written so that the ultimate outcome makes sense.
For me, working on the outline is a form of brainstorming. If you haven’t already done so, this is an excellent time to draw up a brief outline that shows you at a glance what you have written. If you are beginning from scratch, writing this outline will take the better part of a day.
I did make an outline in an Excel Workbook as I went, so I have the basics done, but many things didn’t get noted. I have two major events to plan and write, and then the first draft will be complete.
I know what has to happen, but I’m not sure how to begin this push to the end. So, this week I’m planning what needs to be done next to carry this tale to its conclusion.
Using a spreadsheet program like Excel, or the free program, Google Sheets, allows you to cut and paste events, moving and rearranging scenes up and down the story arc, so they flow logically. There are programs like Scrivener out there that also help you do this, but I’ve never been able to figure out how to use them. I stick with the simple, cost-free options.
When I make the decisions first on a small, easily manageable scale rather than the larger manuscript, I don’t get confused. This makes cutting and moving scenes forward or back along the timeline a lot easier.
So, what do I need to look at first? In this case, it is the timeline: as I wrote, I noted most of the decisions my protagonist and the antagonist made on their way to this point, such as this scene in my antagonist’s thread:
- Kellan shares relic w/Eriann.
- Eriann possessed, goes mad.
- Kellan terrified, casts sleep. Not sure what to do when she wakes.
In the rush to write during NaNo, some scenes didn’t get noted. I’m adding them now, and this is how I will brainstorm the chapters leading to the final scenes.
If you choose to do this, I recommend that you list every decision they made that triggers an event. You need to see the ripple effect of how their actions affect the other characters’ storylines.
Ivan, Marta, and Kellan all made decisions that affected their journey to this point. I need to ensure that I have written them in a way that follows a logical connective evolution. My mind sometimes thinks too far ahead while I am writing.
So, if these choices don’t seem to follow a logical path, I will use my spreadsheet program’s cut and paste function to rearrange the order of events. Then I will go to the manuscript and move or delete them.
We all write fluff, but it can be hard to recognize it. Are the scenes you wrote background or word-wandering for word count? If so, they don’t advance the plot. I will cut them and save them in a file labeled as background.
Next, I will look at the outline of the story structure again. In every second draft, I ask these questions:
- Who is the story about now? Are the main characters still the original protagonist and antagonist, or have side characters stolen the show? If so, I would need to rewrite it so that the characters who best serve the story are the center of focus.
- How high are the stakes if the protagonist fails? Why should we care?
- How high are the stakes for the antagonist, and why should we care?
- What do these two characters want most now that they have had a chance to evolve? Did the quest remain the same, or has a new goal emerged?
- Did the protagonist grow and evolve as a person? If not, why not? Or did they turn to the dark side, becoming an antihero or an antagonist? Is there a new hero?
- Where are the pivotal places where something important to the logic is missing?
I am going to examine my outline to see what doesn’t need to be included. What should I remove to make the ultimate ending feel more logical? I will write new scenes into the outline, events that push the plot to its conclusion.
I have read many stories that weren’t told in chronological order. Some were successful, but others failed.
Suppose you are going out of chronological order. The plot should still be the same logical chain, but the story might contain flashbacks or memories. I suggest you make a note on your timeline of where these occur so that you don’t repeat information the reader already knows.
Some authors use “flash-forwards,” which can easily make the story arc feel clumsy and unbelievable. I don’t use them myself but have read plenty of books that employ them.
I will tell you now that inserting a flash-forward requires good planning to fit seamlessly into the story and not ruin the mystery.
Good foreshadowing doesn’t tell the story in advance. It offers small clues hidden in the overall picture, hints in the scenery that all is not what it seems. It tantalizes the reader and makes them curious.
Many authors reject the outline process in the first draft because they prefer to “wing it.” The novel I am working on right now was written that way and was fun to write. However, my story has wandered and skipped its way to this point, and now I need to drag it to the conclusion. I will find many places to cut and other areas that need expansion.
This will require more work than if I had planned it and written to an outline, but I am glad I wrote it the way I did. NaNoWriMo 2020 was a good experience. It’s been a long time since I had a novel that insisted on writing itself.