I’m still in the middle of revision, but I’ve had a few random thoughts in no particular order, mainly about plot and character.
1- Do the global revision first! I had a teacher compare a global revision to looking at the whole forest, not focusing on the leaves or weeds yet. In other words, I’m assessing the plot arc and character motivation. It’s no use fixing a few passive phrases or polishing a scene until it shines if the whole chapter is going to be cut when I realize the plot isn’t progressing logically.
2 – Know your characters’ motivations inside and out. A step outline can help. Write down the inciting incident. Draw a step or an arrow. What event does the inciting incident naturally lead your character to do? Draw another step or arrow. What event naturally follows next based on how your character feels or perceives the events? Do this for all the major characters. See how the antagonist has real motivations too and isn’t merely a villain. Make sure the way characters act or react is true to them so the accelerating action makes perfect sense to your readers. Ever read a book where it seemed the characters had been squashed into a predetermined plot and they ran around doing things without ever showing why? That’s my first draft, but I don’t want it to be my last.
3 – To understand your character’s motivations, you need to understand a.) what the character wants, b.) what the characters subconsciously wants, c.) WHY the character wants these things. In my present draft, my main character wants to inherit her grandparents’ diner and stay in her hometown. I’ve done a great job of telling readers what my main character’s goal is. However, the one comment scribbled by an editor on my manuscript more than any other is, “WHY?”
4 – The author must understand what the character wants and why, but that doesn’t mean the character should have crystal clear self-understanding. The author can help the reader understand the characters’ wants by dramatizing them instead having the character explain them.
I’ve made the mistake of having my main character say over and over, “I want to stay here. I’m never leaving.” Subconsciously she wants to avoid being like her mother, who left, but consciously I need to add some drama to make her seem strong-willed instead of stubborn. I’ve failed to show that she enjoys interacting with her neighbors when she serves them at the diner or that she loves experimenting with recipes—that she has talent and an emotional connection to the diner, not just an aversion to leaving her comfort zone.
5 – Making sure your readers know what your character wants and why is only the first step in creating an interesting, engaging plot. Your readers also have to care about what your character wants. If readers don’t care, either your character isn’t likable enough or the stakes aren’t high enough.
The stakes are pretty high in my book—the main character could lose her home and leave the only place and people she’s ever loved. But who cares if she leaves when everyone can see that leaving would be good for her? By making Miya too closed-minded, I’ve accidentally invited my readers to root for the wrong thing.
About raising stakes, Jeanette Ingold once talked about writing about a violinist who embarrassed herself by goofing up a recital at a music camp. Ingold upped the stakes by making her character a child prodigy who flubs a major international recital. Big difference!
Readers have to believe it’s possible the protagonist will get what he or she wants, but it also has to be possible that the protagonist will fail—and the results of failing have to be huge for the book to hook readers.
6 – Ideally, every chapter or scene should add a “change in value.” If characters are happy and fine at the beginning of the chapter, they shouldn’t be by the end. If characters are distraught and crying at the beginning of the chapter, they should find some peace by the end. If nothing “turns” in each chapter, what’s the point of the scene? Every chapter and scene should be advancing the plot—both the external plot and the underlying emotional arc. If I had a printer that was worth anything, I’d consider printing my manuscript and using different colors of highlighters to show the emotional tone of each section of the chapter. If a block of color doesn’t change for a while, even if outward action is progressing, I’m afraid the story may lack heart.
7 – Make sure the main character is vitally involved in the climax. I thought my character was involved because she shows up, but it turns out that I can make her stronger than that. Your protagonist can be the linchpin in the height of the action, not just a participant.
Any revision tips you’ve found especially valuable you want to send my way?