So, you’ve tackled the first draft, and you have all these shiny new ideas on the page. Huge congratulations and kudos for this! I’m impressed. Go you!
Now, I want you to remember this feeling of complete awesomeness, because this is what’s going to help you stay the course during the editing process. Unless you’re like me…and the editing is your favorite bit. In that case, reward yourself for getting through the first draft without imploding.
Okay, so I thought I’d do a little mini-series on how I tackle the revision process. This has changed and morphed over the years, taking in bits of advice that work for me, throwing out bits of advice that don’t. My suggestion is that you do the same – take it all in, then use what works for you, and junk what doesn't. Hopefully, my view on it has something useful to you.
Now, I vary between being a panster, plotter, and planster. I can’t help it; some books demand different things. However, I have learned one major thing about my writing, especially in recent years and it's this: logic, logic, logic. I sometimes forget this in my wild jumps of faith, and chase for cool ideas and quirky plot twists. So, my first and foremost edit is to look for plot logic. This is how I conquer it:
Character motivations: Do they make sense? Is my character following their own path, and not just my plot? I need to check that the reactions they have are consistent to their personality, upbringing, and background. In order to do this, I have to get to know my character. Some people like to know everything right down to their favorite color and shoe size. That person is not me (but kudos to you if it’s your thing – go rock your organized self out!).
Rather, for me, I know my character’s emotional baggage. I know who they are, what shapes them, what they are morally ambiguous about, what they would never do, what promises they would break, why they want what they want, what events in their life shaped them. I know what their darkest secret is and what they would do in order to hide it. In other words, I like to look into the underbelly of my character’s life and see what wriggles and crawls out. Then I check my logic in the plot based on this; I check my character’s actions are correct and consistent throughout the book. Oh, and because it’s important…I do this for all of my characters, secondary included. I think it’s worth it, and gives texture to the world, and a sense of authenticity.
Plot logic: Now that you have character motivations in place, hopefully you should see what plot changes need to be made in order to accommodate the character’s personality. For example: in the first draft, Danny loves math but is bullied for it, so he burns his math homework, and that sets the house on fire. Upon researching Danny’s background, I discover he’s actually terrified of fire, because of a house fire in his past, and he delved into math because he needed an obsession to take his mind off the trauma. See where I’m going with this? He’d no longer burn his homework, but if he did, there’d need to be a super good motivation behind it. Maybe I need the house to burn down...if so, I need to ask myself: what would make Danny do that?
You also need to make sure that you keep your plot in there, too, as I’m pretty sure you don’t just want to have your character running around willy-nilly, ignoring your awesome concept. So, here’s where the balance comes in. You need to have a framework within your plot. Plansters love this as it’s the ideal outline/pantsing combo. However, this is EDITING not first drafting, so you pansters and plotters best get to grips with two facts: You need to let your character have room to breathe and make their own choices, AND, you need to give a framework. Now, in order to solve this problem of “X need to happen in my plot, but Y character wouldn’t do that and allow it to happen”, you need to think “what would make Y character do that X plot point.” Figure that out and you’re on your way to balancing plot and character logic, IMO.
So yeah, that’s what I do first. I look at my character and plot logic, and then balance them out against one another, and make sure one doesn’t swamp the other. Next time, I’ll fill you in on my next step in the revision process…