Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Editing tips 2: Spotting plot's holes

As I have been doing a lot of editing lately I decided to save the way I did it as blog post tips. The first tips was on copy editing which is the last part of your edit. Today, I want to talk more about developmental editing, and the first thing I always look at is the plot. Can it stand by itself or are things missing?

Here is my way of finding the plot's holes and make sure that the story flows from one point to the others with nothing missing. 

1) Read through your manuscript and summarize what happens in every chapters.

Reading through the manuscript is really important, I know too many people who just start on fixing grammar as soon as they are finished with the draft. I consider it really bad for several reasons:
1) You are beating yourself up for a draft badly written. Better a finished draft poorly written than no draft at all.
2) Your story needs to stand up before you go into details. What's the point of creating a perfect paragraph that will be cut out of the story. It's just a waste of your time and energy which would be better focused elsewhere. 
3) You need to know your story before starting to change it. I generally let my draft rest for few months, before even looking at them while working on something else. This allows me to disconnect the emotional bound with my story and characters. It is always said that writers are too close to their story to properly edit it, you need to forget it and to relearn it to be efficient. 

Summarizing the chapters will help you to see the big picture. If you are like me and don't have chapters find key points, those can be change of location, new characters arriving....
If there is a part missing in the story it will automatically when the chapter summaries don't make a complete and clear story line. At that stage, you are still working a rough draft so feel the blanks however you please as long as you get a clear and complete pictures. It is the time when you should add more and forget about removing. The only reason to remove anything at this stage is when one chapter clearly stands out of the line and can be seen as the story going crazy where is shouldn't have gone before getting back on track. Don't erase it, copy it in your cut out file.

2) Have a read through your chapters and summarize what happens in every paragraphs and Answer the plot questions

Once you are done and satisfied with the big picture of your novel, go through it one more time summarizing each paragraphs.
Summarizing the paragraphs will give you a better picture of what is going on in each chapter and spot inconsistencies. (more of that in another post)
Here are some of the plot questions I use, and examples from Demon and Fairy's opening chapter.

1) What happens here?
This should be the main line of your paragraph summary.
 Seti is flying to the beach.

2) Why it happens?
There is a reason for everything, if you can't find it go back to the previous paragraphs, if it's still not there either you are introducing something new which will require an explanation now or later (clues) or the paragraph is unnecessary and need to be taken out. (Don't erase it, copy it in your cut out file.)
Seti has a head ache and looking at Kallisto is the only thing making it disappear. 

3) Who is here and why?
You can have one or more characters in the story they all have a reason to be there.
I'm going to use a controversial example here because that's a part the critique thought unnecessary.
Who : Seti, in Seti's thoughts Kallisto and Kelpie
Why : Seti is on the beach because of the headache.
          Kallisto is in Seti's thoughts because he wanted her to cure his headache.
           Kelpie is in Seti's thoughts because it shows what kind of relationship Seti doesn't have and longs for. It also introduces the surrounding of Kallisto and shows what kind of person she is.

4) Does it follows what happens in the previous paragraphs?
Sometimes you have so many things happening that you need to go back far or look further. If you are writing in several characters point of view for example in different chapters, go back where you left them. If you are in the middle of the action make sure it follows through. If you can't find any relations get that part the cut out file.
Seti is flying to the beach to see Kallisto  → She is not there →  He tries to think about her to feel better → It doesn't work so he goes home....
Make sure everything follows each other logically.

5) Can this be listed as a clue?
What I call clues are important part of the stories which are lightly mentioned, several time through the beginning and developed later on. If it keeps the reader hanging for more wondering what is going on I call them strong clues. They are generally given as things happening without the main character noticing or in the thoughts of another character.
Without a last look, he flew away and didn’t notice the other demon who had just landed in the garden of her house and flew high speed through one of the second floor bedroom’s window. 
If they are meant to be forgotten, I call them subtle clues. These are the clues that the readers will forget or disregard a detail and have a Ah-moment later on as the clue take it's importance. "I should have known that!!"
Kallisto gives fairy powder to Seti. (This is even a hidden clue.)
It is important to spot your clues to remember that you have to use them later, no point of having a clue that is never used it's just unnerving. Remember, everything happens for a reason.

3) Fill the blanks by adding paragraphs or chapters to link them together.
As much as you need to cut out the unnecessary, illogical paragraphs but it is likely that you will have missing parts. Generally I have something like 10000 to 20000 words added and deleted so the length of my novel doesn't change much but the content does.
If one paragraph fits with what comes next, but not with what happens before, you need to fill the bank.
Create a chain of events from where you are at to where you need to go next, and write your story for those. It can be as short as a linking sentence or as long as a chapter.
In the case of a sentence it is easily done.
In the case of a full chapter, you need to see if the part you are trying to link your beginning to really follows the story, and you need think a bit more carefully before doing it, no need to link something to a paragraph which doesn't lead anywhere.
But I trust you on taking the right option for your story. Writing is never lost, it always fit in the cut out files and can be used for other purpose later, at worse it helps you learn how to be a better writer.

How do you edit your stories? How do you find your plot holes and fix them? I hope you'll find something helpful here and let me know if I miss something.

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