Hello, and welcome to another Twin Thursday with Rachel of Chicken-Scratch Plot! Well, kind of. I sorta ran off on a tangent and started doing my own thing for a minute. But we’ll probably be back on track at the end of this series. As always, be sure to check out her blog for her view!
For today, I wanted to talk specifically about the first of the three editing pass I do when I’m sitting down to revise. This is where I tackle the big problems in the manuscript, the ones that are going to take the most mental muscle to resolve. Or, to put it in terms of home renovation, I get the bathtub out of the kitchen.
I don’t know when I started using that phrase for it, but it fits. You don’t want to start choosing paint colors and tile swatches when you haven’t even gotten the fixtures in place yet. Just like that, you don’t typically want to start fussing about word choice and cosmetic changes to the manuscript when there are huge overarching revisions to be made.
In my opinion, there are three major kinds of overhauls that you might have to make to a story, the problem being that they all influence each other. To continue the house analogy, this is like moving the bathtub to its new place, but then also having to move the sink and the toilet and then also having to rerun the water lines. And, unfortunately, there’s no easy way to do it. Once you’ve identified that, yep, this entire subplot needs to be axed and replaced, all you can do is hold your breath and dive in.
The first is a setting overhaul. This is, in my opinion, the easiest of the three to fix. In an ideal world, you just need to heighten your sensory detail and make the setting more immersive. But in the event that you have to change your setting, things can then get tricky.
Let’s say you had conceived of the whole story taking place in a world where it never rained, and you built everything around that. And then you found out that it doesn’t work. This means you have to now restructure not just the physical worldbuilding details but also the culture that would have arisen. Easy enough in theory, but…
It can affect your characters, too. Say you’d originally conceived of your protagonist as a badass bitch, but the worldbuilding no longer supports the attitude you thought she had. You’ll have to go back through all of her interactions, actions, internal monologue and revise them to bring her more in line with your new concept (Or, conversely, you could amp up her BAMF quotient and change the backstory and the worldbuilding until she’s exactly what you envisioned. I usually do the former. I find that my understanding of my characters tends to mature and deepen as I write the first draft, so I tend to run with it). Hopefully, these will mostly be small tweaks, but they add up in the sheer volume of them that may need to be done. The problem is…
Character problems and setting issues can both roll into plotting complications. These are the ones that will probably make you want to scream. This is where wide chunks of text get moved to your scrap document and brand-new material has to be generated to take its place. This is where, yeah, your original character would have done X, but the new one does Y, which changes everything after.
The way I work these changes is, for each scene and chapter, I make a list of the things I need to alter that fall into one of these three huge categories. Then I start from page 1. For each paragraph, I see if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked either based on my notes or based on what I just changed earlier in the draft. When I get to places where I have to write new material, I just plop it all in. I don’t worry about segues or transitions just yet; that comes later.
When it’s all done, the draft is usually rather ugly, if I’m telling the truth. I’ve dragged the bathtub out of the kitchen, but now there’s a huge scuff on the floor and a hole in the plaster. Don’t worry. That’s what we’ll fix in the next pass!