Dealing with Plot Dust Bunnies — July 26, 2011

Dealing with Plot Dust Bunnies

I mean, inconsistencies.

Last week, I posted about my current revisions on Lodestar.  In the comments of that WiP Wednesday post, The Empty Pen asked, “How do you decide what to do with your inconsistencies?”

First off, thanks for asking.  It actually made it a little easier to deal with them because I actually had to think through the process before I started so I knew how to answer.

As to how I decide what to do, it’s a 2-step process.

This works best after a few drafts so you’re intimately acquainted with your dust bunnies.  (Seriously those inconsistencies breed like dust bunnies.  Turn your head for one minute and they multiply.)  I honestly didn’t catch these inconsistencies until I was reading through prior to my sixth draft in order to create a new revision outline.  (Links to my outlining and revising process should be found in the sidebar.)

The first step is to note what the inconsistencies are.  For me, I first noted them in that revision outline.  After that I transferred the inconsistencies to a sticky note on my desktop.  (I’m a Mac girl, sorry.)  This was so that my revision outline was a little less cluttered.

On this draft, after I’d gotten my revision outline and gone through it highlighting as I saw fit and marking the pages with sticky flags, I started in on the revisions.  The first thing I did was take care of any major cuts since those might affect any inconsistencies.  After that was done, I got down to brass tacks.

I opened that sticky note so I could read exactly what my inconsistencies were.  I picked a highlighting color (from the myriad color options in the word processing program I use) and everywhere that inconsistency shows up I highlighted.  Repeat that process for all your inconsistencies, using a different color for each.  (It’s helpful at this point to keep a log of which color specifies what so your color choices are consistent.)

Any random issues that came up (for instance, this book deals a lot with gravity so I did sadly hit a couple of random issues that weren’t really an inconsistency but needed my attention), I picked a color for each type.

After your highlighting is done save.  Save after you fix each inconsistency and have eliminated one highlighter color.

Now it’s time to scan through the moments where your inconsistency shows up.  Read through them all at once so you know which directions you waffled in as you wrote.  You know your story best and after X number of drafts, you’re very intimately acquainted with it.  This knowledge can illuminate exactly how making a decision in any direction you went will serve the story.  Sometimes what serves the story best is taking the option which requires the least amount of words to actually describe in prose.  Sometimes not.

Once you’ve decided which route to take, scroll back up to page one.  Scroll page by page through your manuscript so you’re working chronologically.  (Assuming your book is written chronologically.  It doesn’t have to be.  Ooh, shiny.)  Make whatever fixes you need to that earliest instance of the inconsistency to set up why it’s that way and then proceed to bring all the rest of the spots highlighted in that color into line with that decision.  As you fix each spot, remove the highlighter.

For one of my major gravity issues, I decided it would work best if gravity were perhaps a bit malleable for a certain character.  So I went in and added an explanation of how that would work for this character.  I did that early on so that thereafter I wouldn’t have to reiterate the explanation.  It’s established and so the reader can either suspend their disbelief or not.

With each inconsistency, start at page one.  Save after each has been resolved.

More to come on Thursday about the use of highlighter in your word processing program and the manuscript file.

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 3 — February 3, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 3

We made it!  The last step of the process!  This one is time-consuming but by far the most fun of them all.

All those post-it flags and notes in the margin?  They’re coming off.

First, the easy ones.  Whatever colors you’ve designated for things to move elsewhere (4 out of 6 categories) are the ones you’ll go through first.  Go one color at a time and start cutting and pasting.  This is where your margin notes will come in handy.  You should have noted along the way where to move something to.  Mine read something like, “Use this scene for such and such bit of mythology, character history, whatever.”

As you address each of these changes, remove the post-it.  This pass-through will leave you with just two colors and two categories to address: Scenes/chapters to reconsider (which I’ve marked in mine with orange) and things hinted at or foreshadowed that need to be developed further.

These two are the meatiest of your categories and the ones the hardest and most time-consuming to address.  But your outline will work for you, not the other way around, with this method.  This outline will help you to close up plot holes, deepen characters, adequately foreshadow events, etc.

The easier of these two categories is the foreshadowing/developing further one.  For each of your post-its in this category, go back through your margin notes.  These notes will indicate places where it will flow naturally to put in a sentence, a short scene, anything that might help foreshadow without giving away or places where a small bit of backstory can be seeded to explain something you’ve indicated.

Don’t remove the post-it until you’ve fully addressed it.  This includes scenes that need to occur after the post-it, further on in the narrative.  Once you feel that you’ve added everything that needs to be in order to smooth out the plot bump, you can remove that post-it.

Now we’re only left with one color.  Scenes and chapters to reconsider.  You may find that many of these are no longer something that needs to be addressed and the post-it can be removed.  (Many of mine ended up being deleted as I went through the other five categories of changes.)  But this category also includes the scenes that you noted in the margins to add but don’t get addressed by the other five pass-throughs.

In the end, you’ll end up with a stronger story and a post-it free outline.  (At this point, for future revisions, I would suggest you create a clean outline to work off.  This one you’ve just finished with is vastly different from the manuscript as it currently stands.)

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 2 — February 1, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 2

Everyone set with their outlines all post-it noted and looking like there’s a lot of work ahead?  *crickets chirp*

Right then.  Well, we’re going to go ahead and press on to the next step.  I recommend your favorite comfort food because this is going to sting, possibly a lot.  It’s like picking off a scab.  You know it’s going to hurt but you do it anyway.  And then it hurts and you cry.  But it scabs over again.

Your first part is to knock out the easy stuff.  Pull up your latest draft, the one that’s most current and that you’ll work off of for this revision.  For me, so I don’t lose anything that maybe will find its way back in later, I copy the entire manuscript to a new file and save it with a later draft number.  This way I have a history of the story progress and if there’s something that’s absolutely worth putting back in later, I can access it rather than try to recreate it from memory.

The easy stuff is everything that you put a slash through two steps ago, the second step of the detailed outlining process.  (Which I talk about in this post.)  If there’s something in the scene that you’re deleting that you’ve marked to be moved elsewhere, I suggest you either leave that in the document file itself or you can create a separate file for those tidbits so that when you get to the next step of the process you have handy access to them.

After you’ve done that, you’ll need to move on to the next part.  This is where you start brainstorming the sutures you’ll use to put your poor baby together.

Go post-it by post-it and look at what needs to be done.  If it’s something you need to develop further, meaning it’s an event or some such that you’ve hinted at or foreshadowed or that came up unexpectedly when you were pantsing it, this is where you start looking for places you can do just that.

For each post-it go back through the scenes the preceded it or follow it, depending on where it needs to move or if it’s something to set up or address later, and note where you could put some sort of scene or revise a scene to help accomplish that goal.

In the end of this step you’ll have pages that could look like this.

Or something like this.  You’ll have notes all over your margins on some pages.  Some pages you might have nothing.  It all depends on how strong the individual scenes and chapters are.  Because the book is only as strong as its weakest scene or chapter or character.

That’s enough for today.  This post is getting long and this step can take a day or two.  Come back on Thursday (after a WiP Wednesday with my updates on how well this process is working for me.)

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 1 — January 31, 2011

Making Your Outline Work For You Part 1

Outlining?  Me?

Yes.  And I’m here to tell you how to make your outline work for you.  I’ve blogged before about the outlines that I do.  (I plan to continue this process through many many books.  It’s extremely helpful, especially this next step.)

As a refresher, the first two posts are here and here.

Now, after I’ve created my lovely outline, in a process that takes a while, feels like rolling Sisyphus’ rock, and makes you want to tear out your hair, and proceeded to tear it to pieces, I have a nice messy slate to work off.

This is the next step in the process:

Post-it Flags will be your friends in this step of the process.  Here I have 6 colors to match the 6 highlighter colors from step 2.

These and your pen will become invaluable from here on.  They’re your best tools, aside from your imagination, at this point.

You can see in the photograph that there are a ton of post-its sticking out the side of my outline.  I’ll explain.

First off, you’re going to want to set aside a good hour or more for this part.  You’re not just sticking these flags on willy-nilly.  There’s a method to the madness.

Next, I recommend a good television program or movie playing in the background so that when your eyes are swimming in colored post-its you can avert them and allow them to re-calibrate.

All settled on the couch?  Great.  Here’s where you dig in and really make this baby start working for you.  You’re now going to go page by page and put a little post-it beside every highlighter mark you’ve made in the outline.  Does your page have four different colors marked on it?  Great.  One flag of each color.  You may have to continually reference your little color key you’ve inserted in the front of your outline, but you’ll get there eventually.  You’ll start to notice that certain colors appear more than others.  This will show you where you might have a weakness or writer’s tic.

In the end, you’ll end up with the right edge looking something like this, only more colorful.  (At the point in this process I took the photos, I’d already gone through many of the parts I’ll discuss tomorrow and Thursday.)

Now that’s over, it’s time to move on to the next part of this.  Which I’ll post about tomorrow since this is already going on long enough.

Consistency thy name is EDITOR — October 29, 2009

Consistency thy name is EDITOR

On October 11, my mom and I watched the second episode of the CBS show Three Rivers.  (Sigh, Moonlight  we barely knew thee.)  My mom and I had watched the pilot episode the week before.

It’s common that from pilot to second episode there are changes.  Someone’s re-cast, a character is eliminated and another brought in, etc.  But the writers are always consistent with timelines and such.

Except on Three Rivers.  In the first episode, there’s a new transplant assistant coordinator (whatever his title is).  The doctors all know who he is, he seems to have a pretty good handle on what his job entails, etc.

In episode 2, he’s just being hired.  No one knows him and he’s thrust into an entirely new situation that he has no idea how to handle.  He doesn’t seem able to do his job, etc.

Consistency thy name is EDITOR.

Or, in our case, internal editor.  For writers, we have to know everything about our characters, etc. there is to know before we start writing so that we can stay consistent.  This will help keep plot holes to a minimum in first draft, etc.  (I really like using “etc” in this post, eh?)  So we need to develop a good editorial eye to keep consistent within each project.

That’s all.  It was just really bugging me that this had happened on network television.  Sigh.

Oh, and please vote in the poll.  (See sidebar.)  Any “other votes” please use the comments for this post to explain.  Footloose and Fancy-free would be a chance for me to just talk about whatever.  Poetry would be topics related to the craft of poetry (a lot of which I’ve found helpful in fiction writing).  Just let me know as I’m still struggling with this one.  Thanks.

Rabbit holes — August 25, 2009

Rabbit holes

Well, really, plot holes.

I was watching a rerun of “Castle” last Monday (boy do I ever covet that man’s office) and I got to thinking: They never resolved one issue in the case they dealt with.

My knee-jerk reaction to this: “It must have gotten left on the editing room floor.” Happens a lot in movies and television.

But sometimes it happens in best-sellers. *coughtwilightcough*

So that’s when you need a really good reviewer/crit buddy.

The plot hole in Castle goes like this: The case they were working on involved a woman on the lam for years following a bombing on an oil tanker that she was involved in. Said woman turns up dead in the opening scene of the episode. Eventually we come to learn that one of the accomplices, the only one ever found because the third was killed in the blast, was turned in to the FBI by a female caller. The cops that Castle shadows assume it to be the woman whose murder they’re investigating.

Then they discover that the woman presumed dead in the original explosion wasn’t so dead after all.

And then the plot hole hits. They never resolve whether it was the woman who was murdered in the beginning of the episode or the woman who was presumed dead but turned out to be the killer was the one who turned in the other accomplice.

So, how does this relate to writing a novel or to crit buddies? Well, we need them so little threads like this don’t end up on the editing room floor. Readers aren’t stupid and they will pick up on the little plot holes and things we leave dangling. If we’re writing a series, they’ll forgive us the occasional dangle because they’ll assume it will get wrapped up before the series ends.

But if we’re writing standalone works and there won’t be any crossover beyond characters from book to book then we have to make sure we plug the rabbit holes and don’t cause our readers to fall through and disbelieve anything we’ve written because of one little thing.