The Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon is winding down but in no way over!
I’ll just say three words and you’ll know who our guest is today: The Emotion Thesaurus! Becca and Angela kicked off their release recently with all the random acts of kindness and their book reached #1 on Amazon! Woo hoo!
Welcome Becca Puglisi to the blog! *cheers and clapping*
Biscuits and Subplots and Cake, Oh My!
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about layers. Not cake layers. Not the scrumptious, peel-off-able pieces of the fluffy buttermilk biscuits my daughter forces me to make (and consume) for breakfast. No, fortunately for my waistline, I’m focused right now on story layers, particularly those that develop through the use of subplots. I’ve figured out that a story is always better when it’s layered, so I added a few extra plot lines into my WIP. There’s the main hero plot line, two romantic subplots, and also a relational subplot surrounding my character’s dysfunctional relationship with her stepmother. In hindsight, inserting these layers was fairly easy. The hard part came when it was time to edit them, and I realized I didn’t know how to do it effectively.
So I came up with a system. I love systems; I have one for pretty much everything. A system for cleaning the house. A system for organizing my week, for teaching my son the alphabet, for plotting my next novel–if it needs doing, I have a system in place to keep it streamlined. It was really just a matter of time ‘til I came up with one for editing subplots:
- Number and title your chapters and scenes. If you don’t want to muddy up your story with chapter titles, you can keep a separate list. For me, while editing, I find it easier to include them in the manuscript. Then when I need to go to a particular scene, I can just search-and-find and jump right to it.
- Now pick a subplot to edit. Let’s say you want to work on the romantic one. Look through your numbered list and jot down any chapter where you’ve dealt with this subplot in some way. It could be big or small: the first time the characters see each other, a conversation between the two, the hero’s thoughts about the love interest after seeing her across the room. This is a rough outline of the existing content for that subplot. Now it’s time to examine it to see what needs work.
- First, look for gaps. Are there long stretches where nothing happens to further the subplot? If so, you may need to add a scene, or add something small into the existing content. Is there a scene where your love interest could show up and get some extra exposure? Could you replace a background character in an existing scene with your love interest? Another option is to use peripheral characters. Maybe the person the hero interacts with in chapter 9 is actually the love interest’s neighbor or distant relation. An innocent conversation could stir up thoughts and feelings in the hero that could be used to further your subplot.
- Next, make sure your content is furthering the plot. According to Blake Snyder (of Save the Cat fame, and my new hero), each scene should go somewhere emotionally. If your hero starts out in a negative frame of mind, something should happen so she’s feeling “up” at the end of the scene. Conversely, if the hero is up at the start, by the end of the scene, her emotions should take a downward turn. The reason for this is to make sure that something is actually happening during the scene. No emotional change = stagnation = never a good thing. Tweak existing scenes to reflect some kind of emotional change. If you’re having trouble making it work, consider removing the scene altogether. If it doesn’t further the plot line and doesn’t challenge your hero in some way, it may be extraneous and should be pruned to keep the story strong.
- Repeat steps 2-4 for each subplot.
One final bit of advice: Don’t be afraid of “extra” work. It’s easy, once you reach the editing stage, to think that the drafting is done. But as you edit, you’ll most certainly discover that scenes need to be added here and there. You might even find, as I realized once I started examining my WIP, that your story is in need of a whole additional plot line. If you go into the editing process knowing that you still have some heavy writing to do, it will be easier to accept these changes.
So there you have it. There are a lot of methods for editing, but this is one that works really well for me. Layers are so important when writing a deep and satisfying story. Hopefully something here will encourage you to smooth them out and make your story even better than you thought it could be.
Becca Puglisi is a YA fantasy and historical fiction writer, SCBWI member, and co-host of The Bookshelf Muse, an on-line resource for writers. She also has a number of magazine publications under her belt. Her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression is available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iBookstore, and Smashwords.
Becca and Angela are graciously offering an ebook version of The Emotion Thesaurus to one winner! Please comment and tweet!
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See you tomorrow for an awesome post on using spy gadgets in your fiction!