Tame Your Revision Step-By-Step: 4 Cycle Engine for Your Story

Infographic of 7 revision management tips battery iconsThis post is part of a TAME YOUR REVISION series that started over at The Winged Pen. You can read the overview, find the links to all the posts, and download the infographic here.

As always, feel free to share your best revision strategies in the comments! I’d love to know how you manage.

Public Service Announcement: Yesterday, my husband quoted a new study showing that cycling to work cuts your risk of death in half.

So, bike, writers, bike! 🙂

If you don’t have a commute (you lucky dogs!) you can also reduce your risk of chronic disease and death by walking two hours a week (six miles). The important thing is to keep moving daily. A half hour per day will get your creative juices going and may just save your life.

End of epidemiologist’s soapbox. 😉

“A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end.*” What does that even mean? This whole concept sailed over my head for YEARS until I realized it means:

A story sets up the worst possible scenario for a character, makes it worse in every possible way until the whole situation explodes, and then ties most of the loose ends together to make it satisfyingly tidy.

*Those of you who don’t overcomplicate everything were perfectly happy with the first statement. Thanks for your patience!

CYCLING is a simple way to set traps for readers to incorporate story structure into your novel. Many brilliant people have written about story structure and how to use it elsewhere*.

*Need to read up on story structure? Try Blake Snyder’s classic and breezy SAVE THE CAT (start with chapter 4). Or watch Dan Wells’ inviting and efficient series of videos.

**Or go all in and join the whole Writing Excuses team on this amazing writers’ cruise.

Dan Wells gave an excellent revision workshop that began with a deceptively simple question to organize your whole revision: “Did you meet your goals?”

i.e. What did you want to do when you set out to write this book? Make your best friend laugh? Puzzle people with an intricate mystery? Dueling characters with dazzling reparteé?

If you know what you want to do, you can get help to do it better. I wasted a lot of time thinking that the experts were going to tell me what my manuscript was about. I think I thought agents had x-ray vision.
Don’t despair! Dan says: If you didn’t have a purpose before you started drafting, you need to find a purpose afterwards and impose it. This is when you get to cherry pick what makes a great story.

Cycling is the same idea on a smaller scale.

CYCLE

  1. Go back a chapter. What did you promise the reader? Read through the chapter and make a list of every hint you dropped. If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised how many you find. Cut the hints that don’t line up with your story purpose.
  2. Deliver it. Find a place in the manuscript to give the thing you promised. The disaster that was hidden in the sidekick’s throwaway comment.
  3. Go forward a chapter. What did you deliver that needs to be set-up? Check the big scenes where the hero overcomes the evil villain, the girl gets the boy, or the child saves the day. Make a list of the feelings you want to give the reader.
  4. Set it up. Find places in the manuscript to hint at what’s coming. Seed some doubt. Give another reason why it matters. Get the reader just where you want them.

Happy revising!

Did you find this helpful? I’m always collecting new ways to solve my story problems. What easy ways do you build more into your stories?

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Preparing for NaNoWriMo? Step 3: Cutting your story into squares

1000-year-old brick paving in a herringbone pattern.
If you can’t see which way your story is pointing, maybe you need some building blocks. Byzantine brick paving. Ravenna, Italy. © Laurel Decher, 2016.

This is the third post in a short series on preparing for National Novel Writing Month. You can find the first post about collecting ingredients here and the second post about finding the core of your story here. Happy Writing!

Dan Wells’ 7 Point Structure video lectures are helping me so much that I’m squeezing in an extra blog post to help writers getting ready for National Novel Writing Month. Dan’s five lectures are only ten minutes each and well worth watching. If you watch them first, this post will probably make more sense.

Or feel free to get a taste of why I got excited about these videos by reading my post first. NaNoWriMo season is all about finding out whatever works for your writing process. Take your time playing with this. A little bit here and there is perfect. Enjoy!

Step 0: Optional. Markers and real index cards work too. I’ve got a little present for you: A plotting template. Yay! Read the files in Word or import them into Scrivener for future use (see bottom of post for how to). Download the files from Dropbox here.

Note: You don’t need a Dropbox account. Just click on the tiny blue print that says “No thanks” and Dropbox will give you the files.

Step 1: Import or type up the 7 Point Structure in Scrivener or in your software of choice. A simple table will work fine. The numbers on each card are the order Dan uses in the video to figure out the plot points. The letters on each card are the order the plot points occur in the story. I typed up his tips on each card to help myself through the process.

How to use the index cards: Start with the ending of the story (RESOLUTION). The RESOLUTION isn’t the wrap-up here, it’s the thrilling final victory or defeat.

The opposite of the RESOLUTION is the beginning (HOOK). The MIDPOINT is the half-way point in the story between the HOOK and the RESOLUTION. After that, it’s a repeated cutting the story in half, like cutting brownies in a pan.

7 index cards on corkboard background.
Scrivener Index Cards for the 7 Point Structure described by Dan Wells.

Congratulations! Now you have an overall shape for your story. That will help a lot during NaNoWriMo, even if it changes while you write. If you’re anything like me, it will. Feel free to stop here. Letting your story grow in your subconscious makes it much easier to get the words later on.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-19-52-pm
7 Point Structure Index Cards going down the page with 4 Story Threads going across: CHARACTER, ACTION, FRIENDSHIP, BETRAYAL. Based on Dan Wells’ video series.

Step 2: If you’ve got more story ideas that need a home, you can repeat the process above for each story thread. Dan Wells’ video uses CHARACTER, ACTION, FRIENDSHIP, BETRAYAL. (I changed the ROMANCE category to FRIENDSHIP because I write Middle Grade.) I put a few key words under each thread to jog my memory. It’s easier to do this across all the threads, i.e. the RESOLUTION for each thread, followed by the HOOK.

Cut and paste the different threads from your overarching 7 Point Index Cards and add more where you need it. Remember that all the HOOKs don’t have to happen simultaneously.

Be gentle with yourself. If you’ve got blank spaces or you can’t figure it all out at once, go away and come back later. You’ve got a whole month to play with this. Joy is key.

Step 3: If November still hasn’t arrived (or if it has and you’re taking a break from the words), you can sort your index cards into chronological order. Now you have a handy scene list to write from. Since 7 x 4 is 28 :), you now have an index card for each day in NaNoWriMo. And two “free days” for catching up. Well done!

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-21-32-pm
Index Cards for 7 Point Structure sorted into chronological story order.

Step 4: Try/Fail Cycles for Extra credit. Dan Wells talked about the power of Try/Fail Cycles. Add some to the middle of your story, right around the PLOT TURN 2, and get your readers to cheer for your characters.

If you’ve got fifteen minutes, listen to Writing Excuses’ great tips for how to succeed at Try/Fail Cycles.

screen-shot-2016-10-28-at-12-21-50-pm
Pump up the middle of your story with Try/Fail Cycles and get your readers cheering for your characters.

How did it go? Did you try Dan Wells’ 7 Point Story Structure? Do you have a good feeling for your story now?

Happy writing!

Download the templates files from Dropbox here. The Template Sheets folder in Scrivener is inside your current project. Drag the files into the folder and they magically become Template sheets. Look down at the bottom of the Binder and you should see something like this:

Screen shot of Template Sheets folder in Scrivener's Binder showing location right above Trash.
Screen shot of Template Sheets folder in Scrivener’s Binder showing location right above Trash.

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If you’d like to stay in touch, sign up for my Reader’s List. Once a month, I share new middle grade fiction, story-related freebies, and/or related blog posts. If it’s not your thing, you can unsubscribe at any time.

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