In an effort to improve my manuscript (and to give me something to do while it is out with agents) I decided to show it to a few freelancers. In retrospect, I should have done this BEFORE I queried, but I honestly didn’t even know these people existed until a few weeks ago. Sigh. Anywho…I got one of these freelancer’s reviews back recently. Her letter outlined a list of things she liked as well as a list of questions she felt I left unanswered. At first, I found the list of questions surprising. I mean, I knew the answers to all of them! Ah hem… yeah, that was the problem. When you write a novel, you know the plot and the characters SO well, you don’t notice when you’ve left a hole. Your crit partners might catch some of these things, but the truth is that everyone reads differently. For example, I am a crit partner who is obsessed with detail. While I may not notice whether or not your first plot point comes at the right moment, I will notice if someone’s scarf was purple in the second chapter but green in the fifth. So if you have a problem with keeping your scarf colours straight, give me a call!
Back to my holes. I decided I needed to start my plot from scratch so I could see if there really were holes in it. So this is what I did:
1) My book has several plots and sub-plots, but I decided to concentrate on the two main ones. I drew a line for each and then wrote every point from the plot along the line, in the order in which it occurs. While I was doing this, I made sure to keep asking myself why one plot point led to the next.
For example, A finds out that B lied to her->A confronts B->B knows it’s true but denies it because of a promise she made to C->A stops speaking to B->B blames C
In this example, if you leave out the “because of a promise she made to C”, the final plot point is a leap in reasoning. And I thought first year Philosophy was useless…
For the parts where the freelancer said she didn’t understand why something happened, I took extra care to make sure there were no leaps in plot points. By doing so, I found that I had indeed made some. This prompted me to add some missing plot points and to change some others.
2) When I was done each of the plot lines, I read them through again and made sure they made sense. Then I wrote each point on a little yellow sticky. Using the above example, this means one sticky for “A finds out that B lied to her”, one for “A confronts B” and so on.
Note: These stickies are basically like the plot cards I use to plan my novel. I tried to use my original plot cards for this exercise, but the book has changed so much since I first planned it that they were basically useless.
3) I got a HUGE piece of paper and drew 16 squares on it (1 for each chapter). Without looking at my book, I put the yellow stickies in the blocks they belonged.
4) I scanned my book to see what was missing. There were a few points from subplots that affected the major plots so I added them.
So what did I find? First of all, I found that I need to add/change a few plot points that I discovered in step 1. Second, I discovered that I have an empty square (which means I have an entire chapter where NOTHING MAJOR HAPPENS…Yikes!)
Up next…another round of revision.