Yesterday I met online with my writing coach, Lynn Palermo. A few weeks ago, she sent back my manuscript and at this meeting, we spoke at length about her suggestions.
The call felt more like a therapy session than a discussion about my writing. One of Lynn’s suggestions was for me to develop the characters more, especially my mother. We spent most of the hour examining my mother’s life and how her story fits into the larger story I am telling.
Good character development brings your characters to life!
By the end of our discussion, it was clear my mother’s role is much larger and much more integral to the story. We also discussed the major theme of the novel. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the story is all about self-worth. This was an enormous shift in thinking for me!
I was focusing on the “quest”—getting back what was lost. It’s much deeper than that. It’s the WHY. WHY my great-grandfather needed to regain ownership of his business. WHY my ancestors made the choices they did. WHY I needed to get reparations for my mother. WHY I needed to write this story.
Turns out all those years studying psychology were more helpful than for just figuring out why my students were doing what they did. The more I write, the more I realize just how important it is to get into the head of my characters. Until I really understand them, I can’t do a good job of describing them to my readers.
My background in Special Education and Psychology has certainly been helpful in this endeavor. I might create a genogram to help me better visualize family relations. If you’re not familiar, a genogram is like a family tree. The diagram shows familial relationships, but also the gender, health issues, emotional struggles, and interactions between family members. If you want to try developing this kind of chart, there is a free trial at genopro.com.
Another part of our discussion focused on the actual revision process. After some back-and-forth, we determined that the beginning and the ending of the story needed to be reworked. The beginning because it’s just—well—boring! The ending will change because I’m adding a great deal more about my mother’s adult life. I have some concerns that the book might become my version of War and Peace, but I’ll try to stay focused and concise!
I use a software program called Plottr which is designed to help writers plot out the structure of their books. (Very appropriate name, right?) There are many templates to choose from to help you ensure your book has a structure that makes sense and keeps the interest of your readers. I’m using the Save the Cat template, which is similar to the three-act story structure we are all familiar with, but with a few more detailed scenes (also called beats) incorporated. The software makes it very easy to add, delete, or move scenes around without a lot of the cut-and-paste necessary when writing in a word-processing program.
So, here’s the plan:
The First Step: Compare the manuscript with the outline in Plottr.
Look at each scene closely. Does it have a good hook? What’s the setting? Is there tension? Are the characters well-developed? Is the theme incorporated? Is there a good ending? There are a lot more questions to ask about each scene. I’m following the suggestions in Janice Hardy’s book, Revising Your Novel, to help me with that.
As I work through each scene, I can color-code and make notes in the Plottr software. Lynn gave me explicit instructions: this is not the time to rewrite your scenes. Just note which ones are fine, which need rewriting, may need to be deleted or need to be added. I plan to follow her instructions. (If I had followed her advice two years ago, this book would probably be finished already! But, that’s a story for another blog post!)
I figure this step will take the better part of this month. I’d like to get the structure all set by February, so I can join Lynn’s annual February Writing Challenge and begin the actual rewriting. I got much of my manuscript written during the 2022 February Challenge.
I’ve learned so much in the past year, but I know there’s a lot more knowledge to gain. That’s okay with me. As they say at my former place of employment, Hamden Adult Education, LEARNING NEVER ENDS!
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