Structural revisions: easier on the floor

I’ve actually been too busy with revisions to blog about them, but as I near the end, I’m finding rumination on theory a useful hamster wheel for my brain’s excess energy. So I thought I’d share the super-hi-tech plot-refining method that I used in preparing for this round of revisions.


Yes, that is my floor (yes, that is my foot) and those are plotcards. This draft was a chronological and structural mess at one key point in the late-middle – which I had sneakily hoped my beta-readers might somehow magically understand and let me get away with, and which my fantastic beta-readers completely and utterly didn’t. (Thanks guys: you rock.) So I had to do the thing I’d lazily been hoping I wouldn’t have to do: fix it. This proved such a mental effort (I called it “wrestling with a Gordian knot of spaghetti” while trying to figure it out) that in the end, there was nothing for it but the plotcards, the floor, and a pencil.

This novel has three major character plotlines. When I wrote the first draft, I was absolutely strict about the order of scenes – each chapter contained a scene from character x, character y and character z, in that order, no exceptions. As you might expect, this strictness did story structure and pacing no favours, so when I came to revise the first time around, I threw that structure out and grouped character scenes together into chapters in a more sensible way. However, this left me with one big part where the stories had been interwoven, but now were being broken back out into chunks. I had three chapters where stuff was happening at the same time at one point or another. Perhaps the sensible thing to do at that point would’ve been to make an exception and keep those scenes together in a chapter, but I was being strict again (it really bothers me when I’m reading a book where the author breaks her own structure for no reason other than convenience) and it seemed to mess with the pacing of the character arcs. But now I’d been called on it, and something had to give. Time to restructure. But trying to just think my way from what was to what could be without losing track of any of the strands was beyond me. To the floor!

Each card has a whole chapter listed on it with a dotpoint summary for each scene, usually three or four per chapter. I laid the cards out in current novel order, from left to right and top to bottom, aligning the cards in columns according to POV. (I also numbered the cards by current chapter, so that once I started moving things around I could reset easily if things weren’t working.) The order of POVs wasn’t always the same, so columns one and three are the same character’s plotline. (Note that the colours sooooort of indicate movements in the story, but mostly indicate I ran out of white paper while printing, oops.) And then I got out my pencil and I drew a line across the controversial chapters where Big Event happened in each timeline. Every scene before that line had to happen before the Big Event chapter. Every scene below that line had to wait until after that chapter. Seems simple, right? But just seeing it visually made things so much easier to think about. I shunted a few scenes around, found that that made the perfect place for inserting a couple of new scenes (which previously I’d been a bit flummoxed about including) as a new chapter, shuffled a few chapters a little forward and backward, and all of a sudden, I had a new structure that just worked. While I was there, I even found places to tweak other scenes that needed it.

Then it was just a matter of reworking the book to that structure while including all of the other changes I’d marked from the fantastic feedback from my beta-readers, and taking in the flow-on changes from all of the above that I hadn’t considered previously. But that, of course, is the easy part. (Hah!)

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