March 26, 2012

Q+A: Reworking a Manuscript

» Ask Me Anything!

Sophia asked: What are your best plotting tips, particularly when you're reworking a pantsed draft and you know you need to make big changes?

Ah, the story of my first manuscript lol. I think the answer to this comes down to pace and structure. I talked a bit about this in my post about outlining

Step back, look at the story as a whole, and pick out the following: Intro, Catalyst, Reversal, Climax, Resolution.

I know, I know. It sounds so formulaic. Cue the groans. But the thing is--formulas are there for a reason, and that's because they work. Readers have EXPECTATIONS in terms of plot structure, and when you stray too far from those expectations, you will often lose the reader.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against breaking the rules. But in order to break them, you first have to be familiar with them and understand why they're necessary.

And the thing is, every book is different. The details, the setting, the characters--books are so diverse that no one reading will go OMG FORMULAIC STRUCTURE. Great pacing equals a great story, which in turn equals an immersive reading experience. Which, in case you didn't catch that, is what you want.

Since this was a big weekend for The Hunger Games, let's use it as an example. For those who haven't read the book, expect spoilers.

Intro - It's the day of the Reaping, but we're first taken on a typical morning with Katniss--we see where she lives (the Seam), her sneaking out to go hunting with Gale, her relationship with her sister and mother. The rules of her world are introduced and, by the end of chapter one, we also know that Panem is divided into 12 districts, each of which must sacrifice two tributes in the annual Hunger Games.

Catalyst - Prim is selected at the Reaping, and Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and Peeta are ushered off to the Capital.

Reversal - The announcement that the rules have been modified to allow for two winners so long as they're from the same district. Katniss heads off to find Peeta.

Climax - The finale of the games. Peeta and Katniss run from the muttations, face Cato, and then threaten to kill themselves when the rule change is revoked. As a result, they're both declared victors.

Resolution - The closing ceremonies, the threat of President Snow, and returning home.

Now, once you've got those labeled, see where they fall in the story. With exception to the Intro and the Resolution, everything else should be pretty equally spaced through the book. You don't want 100 pages to pass before the catalyst happens, and then everything else gets crammed into the second half.

Another great technique for looking at the pace of your book is to plot JK Rowling-style. I LOVE the way she does it. It's a great visual way to look at exactly where each of your plot points fall.

In any case, that first manuscript I mentioned above? I will need to rewrite it so I'll be doing this myself some time this year =P

Anything else you guys would like to add would be AWESOME. Please do so in the comments! ♥

Have a great week!

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