Monday, November 19, 2012

Playing Manuscript Jenga

So, this weekend was spent rewriting entire chunks of FOSSEGRIM for project agent revise & resubmit. And, while I’m still not an adept of all that is revision-love, I have to say it was kind of interesting to go back and actually change the direction of a manuscript. 

In this case, I needed to add a new plotline revealing more about my MC’s roots and who his parents were (Basically material I’d hoped to include in book II).

And the line begins about midway through the book and then needs to be woven in throughout the story until it gets its piece of the newly-written climax. This was not easy, and I still have a lot of clean-up to do once I’m done with the initial rewriting.  

My manuscript has jumped 17,500 words and 58 pages in the last six weeks, bringing my total close to 92k. Which is a lot, me thinks. So there’s going to have to be some scenes weighed and clipped.

This whole experience has me wondering- how do you structure your novels? I mean, there are so many things to take into account, like:

Sequence of events
Various Plotlines
Character Arcs
Relationships and Interactions
Important Revelations
Anti climax

And then you throw chapter marks and pacing into the mix, and it’s like trying to put together a very tricky recipe. You slip up on the temp, or the measurements of certain ingredients and the overall taste can be affected, tipping the whole dish too sweet, bitter, or spicy. 

How do you find that careful balance? 

I think a lot of my initial structure is based on ‘feeling’ as I’m reading through a draft. I get a pretty good notion (most of the time) as to which scene would flow well, where. And I usually write and organize my scenes with an outline (or several outlines) based on the themes above to try and keep things going in the right direction. 

However, now that I’m faced with a situation where I have to weave in, not only new material, but changed material, and a whole other point-of-view with its own arcs and revelations, I find myself spending a lot of time playing critical-scene jenga with my manuscript. 

My chapter breaks have flown out the window, because if I kept them as they were, I’d end up with some 6 page chapters and some 18 page chapters.  Finding a way to break off from the original story and move on with a different character without tripping up the pacing has been its own can of worms, too. And don’t get me started on the right-time-for-revelation hokey pokey. *sigh*

How do you go about structuring your novels and finding that careful balance?


Meredith said...

Lots of trial and error. And I always make a reverse outline after each draft so I can see what happens where on one single page. That usually helps me see what's out of order. Good luck!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I added a few small elements to my latest manuscript, but fortunately it didn't drastically change anything. It is a careful balance to make sure it doesn't contradict other elements though.
And breaking the manuscript down into chapters is the very last thing I do, so I guess that works in my favor.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

As you know, I write mostly by gut instinct in the first draft. I use that "side by side" outline to structure the novel during revisions.

As for the inflated word count, I'd worry about that last. Finish your jenga game, putting all the elements in the right places. Then, when you go through the completely assembled new version, the parts to cut will probably jump out at you.

Laura Pauling said...

It's a great experience to change up the direction of a story and do so much rewriting. I read a lot and see how others do it! :) Good luck with them!

Natalie Aguirre said...

Wow! You're doing a major revision. I think Dianne's advice is really good. You'll need to do the revision and then you can see what is unbalanced. Good luck with it and it's awesome how you were willing to do such a major revision.

mooderino said...

I have difficulty keeping it all straight during big changes so i tend to tear it down completely and restructure from the bottom up. save time in the long run. People with better memories and longer attention spans probably don't do it this way.

Moody Writing

Louise said...

After my first draft, I usually write up a basic outline of the novel - it helps me both to see where problems are, what needs to be added or taken away, and gives me a better idea of where and how to make changes without ripping apart the entire MS.

Good luck with your changes!

Karen Baldwin said...

Haven't gotten there yet, only do my own edits. I'll be happy to be at a point when and agent or publisher wants me to revise.

Heather Sunseri said...

I'm such a James Scott Brown Plot & Structure kind of girl when I'm first plotting. And I also like Dan Wells YouTube story structure videos. Both of these compliment each other very well. I'm not an outliner, but I do have to know where I'm going in the story before I start writing, or I end up with a giant mess. (And sometimes I do anyway and end up rewriting :)) Good luck and have fun!

Stina said...

I use Save the Cat to guide me. I find it really helps me huge time. And to think at one point I didn't even consider story structure when I wrote a book. I knew about having a beginning, middle, and end, but that was about it.

Good luck with the rewrites!

Sarah said...

That's a great question. I sketch out the flow first, and then write chapter by chapter, changing the structure as I go. I mostly keep my focus on pacing, which includes major events and revelations. I do it by feel, but it often works. Right now I'm in the middle of a massive revision, and for the first time, I'm actually changing the structure from the first draft. It's been interesting, and as you say, suddenly I'm wondering how to weave in critical info, since the sequence of events has changed!

S.A. Larsenッ said...

I hear you on all counts here. Once I signed with my agent and she did a full read-through, she sent me her suggested revisions, which included deepening one plot line. This upped my word count, which kind of scared me. It seems to be working out, though. I should be on sub, soon. :)

It's not easy to make those decisions. What kept gnawing at me was the fact that I didn't want to waste time revising what I shouldn't and/or ignoring what I should. Time is so precious, as we all know.

I've started mapping out the three projects I'm currently working on. Then, I'm going to just write for a while, see where that takes me. I do, however, plot at least 4 to 5 major events and do extensive character interviews.

Tasha Seegmiller said...

Jenga is the perfect description of what I need to do on my revision. I have some characters who aren't serving any purpose, a subplot to weave through, scenes that are Hope it doesn't topple over.

Tamara Narayan said...

I'm in a similar boat and it feels like I'm trying to hold up a 100 pound bag of sand in a huge, loose sack. Things spill and flow in unexpected directions. What do I fix first? This storyline, that character? The options are daunting as is the list of things to do. I'm settling for a read through to look for areas to cut and holes to fill.

Windy Aphayrath said...

I have also lived through a revise / resub project and the word count jumped insanely too! The best advice I received from my now-agent was: don't worry about the word count until all is said and done and your story is told. Then you'll know what is important and what isn't. Plus, it's amazing the number of scenes that you can roll up into just one very powerful scene. Just saying ;) Good luck!

Unknown said...

Wow! I needed this post today, as I make changes like this on my W.I.P. based on input from my critique partners. I guess it's good practice for the *real* thing.

Thanks everyone for sharing.

Melodie Wright said...

Suggestion: Do a chapter map. Make a chart, with each chapter getting one line. Write a very short synopsis of each chapter, indicating which part of the synopsis does what in your story (underline the main plot, bold the love interest, italicize the subplot, etc.)Then you can use the chart to find out plot holes, which chapter isn't pulling its weight and discover where to add what you need to.

Tammy Theriault said...

i also don't break down into chapters...this is all difficult regardless but it takes time. great blog!

new follower...hi!

Jason Z. Christie said...

Amazingly, I never seem to have to worry about structure. It I'm lucky in that way, I guess.

Sophia Chang said...

Oh gawd I'm in the exact same place as you - making major motivation changes which results in plot shifts. I'm a massive rewriter - I often toss chapters (or second or first halves of books) and just start again. For this WIP I've thrown away or majorly rewritten about 100,000 words - yup, two NaNo drafts of it.


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