CREATE AN OUTLINE:
What? An outline for revision? That’s right. There will always be some debate about the effectiveness of using an outline before the initial creation of your story. Some writers feel like it cramps the spontaneity of creativity. Others cling to pre-writing outlines for stability and to keep from straying too far from the plot. Regardless how you feel about pre-creation outlining, it can always be beneficial to write an outline after that original story has been laid out. Why? Because now that you’ve plodded through everything once, you finally know what your story is actually supposed to be about.
WARNING: This revision exercise is intended to be carried out over the period of a month. Attempting to complete this in one sitting may cause heart failure or at least severe hemorrhoids.
1) Give yourself a few weeks’ distance from the date of completion of your first rough draft. Do something totally unrelated. Go buck-wild.
2) Write out a one-page summary of your story strictly from memory. Make sure you include your main character’s Want, and what happens with their Want at the end.
3) Create as extensive an outline as you can–once again, strictly from memory. Take some time to conjure up the most important scenes you’ve written.
4) Now the hard part–make a list of all the scenes you’d forgotten to include in your outline. Investigate them. Read them again and write out a summary for each. Why were they so quickly forgotten? Are they necessary to your plot? Do they further character development or focus on their Want? This list is a good place to start when cutting and combining scenes in revision.
5) But I remembered every single scene in my outline. Does that mean my story is perfect? Not really…just that you have the memory of a psycho and that you are freakishly involved in everything that’s ever happened to your characters. And I am slightly jealous. In this case, I have a different exercise:
- Make a two-column table. Title Column One: Necessary. Column two: Not Necessary. Unfortunately, there is no room for a third, “Sort of Necessary” category.
- You probably already know where I’m going with this… List all the Scene/Chapter numbers that are absolutely pivotal to your story in the Necessary column. These are not just scenes you like a whole lot. They are scenes that if they were deleted from your story your character would not be whole. The plot would collapse in on itself. These scenes are what makes your story tick. Add things to this list sparingly.
- Everything else, add to the Not Necessary column. Don’t worry, we’re not going to throw all of them away. We just need to look at them a little closer.
- Go through each Not Necessary scene and list all the events and conversations that occur within them. This will probably take a while….
- Pull out any individual events or character confrontations/conversations that need to stay in the story. Add those events to the Necessary column.
- Discard everything that remains in your Not Necessary column.
- Now’s the fun, new-creation part of revision. Infuse your Necessary scenes with the events and character interactions you saved from the Unnecessary pile. Try extra hard to incorporate them into what is already necessary, instead of falling into the trap of recreating new unnecessary scenes. Confused yet?