Monday, January 11, 2010

The Plotting and Revision Process


This post will be
similar to my map post. This is from my personal experiences and will not link out to other people's works, as some of my other posts have done. However, as editing and revisions are an important part of the writing process, I thought I would lay out how I am editing my epic novel series, just in case it proves useful to you. Feel free to use my method if you desire -- that is why I am posting it after all.

An epic series, whether it is science fiction or fantasy, shares one thing in common with every other epic series: length and detail. While I have been drafting this series, I have noticed one thing: my brain simply needs assistance keeping all of the details in order. The first draft got the general idea of the story onto paper, developed my characters so I have an idea of their personalities, where they start and where they go, and ensure that I have a good idea of where I want the story to go.

The revision process is making all of these details coherent and stick together. This post will relate, in some ways, to the devious plot hole post.

However, instead of covering how the plot hole is found, this will cover how I fix them.

For this project, I am using word 2007. I have the full version of it, which is proving invaluable.

Coupled with word 2007, I am using One Note. One Note is a
journal program that is bundled with Office 2007. It is nearly as invaluable as word 2007 is. I'm quite fond of it. Thank you, Microsoft, for making a product that has behaved itself fantastically. However, that doesn't stop me from making backups out of sheer paranoia.

Now that I have listed my tools for this, I will make one commentary: my husband is cheap and didn't buy me
note cards, so I had to make due without. He told me I could waste all of the printer paper I wanted, though. I will probably print 'note cards' for some parts of this process. For now, I am just using One Note and seeing how it goes from there.

An epic fantasy novel has a few characteristics. It has many characters, many lands, many cultures and many events going on throughout the world. For the sake of demonstration, and because I recently read the books, I will use David
Edding's Belgariad and the Alera Codex as examples of *why* I'm doing this as I have.

If you have not read either of these series, I strongly recommend it. The
Alera Codex (Jim Butcher) is very, very entertaining. The Belgariad I consider a classic.

The first thing I will note about both of these series is the rich characters found in them. The
Belgariad typically follows two points of view: Belgarion and Ce'Nedra. Others are thrown in, but you mostly see the world from these two young folks.

Alera Codex is deeper. It follows many PoVs, ranging from Tavi , his mother, and a long range of supporting *and* main characters. My novel shares the Alera Codex's methodology and character range. I found that my epic just could not be done with only one or two points of view.

Either way is fine.

While the
Belgariad does not go into more than two direct PoVs (seriously at any rate), you get to see many other characters on the rate. Where Eddings' excels is through his ability to stay true to his characters. They grow and change, but you never go "What the heck, this character would not do this!". He builds up to the important roles as much as necessary. The Alera Codex uses characters that are deeply shadowed in shades of gray. They are mysteries and you never know exactly what will happen next.

I am attempting a blend of these two styles.

So, in order to accomplish this, I have to take all of the ground work that I have done in my first draft and put it to words. When I drafted, I went in with nothing but a keyboard, a copy of word 2007, and determination to get it done. Thus, I started to write. I did make the error of not pausing to write down character information as I went. I was too eager to get the story onto paper.

So now I have a lot of extra work on my hands. I suggest you write this stuff down as you go. It will save you time. However, it is very useful for rereading your story for plot holes if you do not choose to write it down as you go. I'm still torn a bit on which way I prefer, so I do jump back and forth between the methods.

My first step was to open One Note and start laying out my journals. Currently, I have the following journals made. Please note that this is a work in process and I am by no means done the general plotting footwork of this novel.

Characters, To Do, Kingdoms, Char 1 Plot, Char 2 Plot, Char 3 Plot, Char 4 Plot, Villain Plot

I have removed the names of my characters, but Chars 1-4 are the main
protags / antags. The villain plot is the general overview of the bad guys ploys -- this involves more than one or four individuals with different stories, but a more concise, cohesive force. This may be different for others, but my main protagonists are not very cohesive, at least from the start. Because of this, I have to weave their plots separately. If my good guys were more united (such as Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar Heralds) I may have just had an Antagonist Plot and a Protagonist plot. However, this is not the case with this specific series. I will be adding a general Protagonist Plot tab, but I will mostly be working with the specific char plot lines.

So, let us delve a little deeper into what I'm doing with these journals!

  • Characters

This is the major list of my characters. I have
cp'd a small snippet of the type of things I'm including in this listing. As I write sections that introduce or name these characters, I write down at least the very basics about them.














  1. Easy Going
  2. Loyal
  1. Horses
  2. Traveling
  3. Haggling
  1. Combat
  2. Arguments
  3. Cunning Women

This is a
bare bone model for a character. The more advanced the character, the more in depth I will go with this. However, this is the minimum I will tend to use if I name a character. I use this as a basic template, then build it as needed. Things I include for more common characters are the clothes that they wear, their professions, etc. This is a very good start for me when it is a minor character. (All major characters also start it this sort of information.)

Let us go a little into the specifics. I try to be as clear as possible when I write out this information. I want to remember what I meant later. For example, build is purely physical, just to help me remember what they look like a bit. Obviously, every character has different needs, so it is up to you to decide what is best for your book.

I have a section in this journal for every named character, regardless of whether it is a
protag or an antag.
  • To Do
Next we have the To Do list. These are things I need to do in the near or far future that I do not want to forget. In this journal, I have several sections.

  • General To Do List
  • Character Modifications
  • Plot Hole Fixes
This list will grow as I progress in the novel. The novel will not be complete until I have addressed all of the items in my to do list.

  • Kingdoms
This section ties in with that big maps file I have. For every kingdom listed, I am working on defining the political, economic and cultural aspects of the people of these kingdoms. In a way, these kingdom sections in the journal will become general templates for the people found in them. There will be a section dedicated to the stereotypical behavior pattern, classes and beliefs of the people of these kingdoms. This section is a massive amount of work. I am approaching this by listing all of the kingdoms and basic general points about them. When my characters are active in a kingdom, I flush it out to make certain it is consistent with what I have written. Some of these kingdoms may never actually find their way into the novel as a major role, but it is important to know regardless.

  • Character Plot Points

Plot Point #

Main Plot Point

Second Point

Third point

Fourth point


This is the basic template that I am using for the plot points. This will help me get their overall plot written out. Each Plot Point # will become a section of its own. I may have several Plot Point #'s per a chapter, but each plot point # will only have one Main Plot Point. This is to help keep all of the threads of the plot organized. I may add another column to reference previous plot point numbers so I don't have to dig back as often. The second, third and fourth points are to make small notes of important things that occur based off of their importance. I may have three or four things listed under secondary points. The Importance is just how vital this point is for the success of the plot I want for the novel.

I will use variants of this for all of the character points *and* the villain points.

This is the basics of my structure. Once I have the plot points listed out, I may print out the One Notebook as my
note cards, cut them out per plot point and use that to determine where things should happen.

I am chewing on whether or not to have a "date of event" column in my plot. This may be very useful keeping things in chronological order, but I am still uncertain if I will do this.

Now that you know how I structure my notes for revisions, I can begin the rewrite. This is the second draft, and may or may not use sections from the original. I have some sections that will remain mostly intact. However, a lot of the sections can use improvement. While I will keep the general idea of the passages, I will not necessarily keep the exact wording. However, some gems will remain in the final novel! I know some of my more powerful sections will be remaining with some revisions for the sake of consistency.

The second draft is about letting that editor come out and play. While I will be doing a lot of writing and rewriting and working, I will be picking apart every section to make certain that I do this correctly. Writing in this stage is slow. When I work, I expect 500 to 1,000 words per hour. This is rather slow compared to many others I know. However, unlike some events during the year, Quality trumps Quantity. However, time is precious. If you are serious about novel writing, you will remember this. Time is precious. Do not waste it.

Good luck with your writing, and I hope this proves of some use to you!

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