Taking the Mystery out of Editing Those Pesky Subplots!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.



Purchase Links:

Amazon print ~ Kindle ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Smashwords

Becca and Angela are graciously offering an ebook version of The Emotion Thesaurus to one winner! Please comment and tweet!

In celebration, tell us your most over-used, cliche phrase you have to constantly eradicate from your writing! 

There is still time to enter the Indelibles Beach Bash to win a Nook or Kindle loaded with some Indelibles newest releases including my release – A Spy Like Me. Join the fun!

And don’t forget to enter for a signed hard cover of Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter.

See you tomorrow for an awesome post on using spy gadgets in your fiction!


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24 Responses to Taking the Mystery out of Editing Those Pesky Subplots!

  1. Natalie Aguirre May 23, 2012 at 10:53 am #

    This is great advice Becca. I’ll have to try it.

    Let someone else win Becca and Angela’s book. I already bought it.

    • becca puglisi May 24, 2012 at 2:11 am #

      Whew. So glad this makes sense, lol. It’s work, but then, which part of the process isn’t?

      Thanks for letting me crash the place, Laura. Here’s to you selling a gajillion books!

  2. Ansha Kotyk May 23, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    I love revision systems too!! (next book??) This is a great system on how to revise subplots. I recently did a scene inventory on one of my novels and tagged all the subplots that way. It was a great way to breakout the plots critique them. Thanks Becca! off to tweet!

  3. Laura Marcella May 23, 2012 at 11:25 am #

    This is great advice, Becca! I have my own systems for everything, too! I’ll have to give this one a go because I’m always up for trying something new and seeing how it works for me. Congratulations on your book, Becca and Angela!

  4. Lindsay May 23, 2012 at 11:28 am #

    Fantastic advice and so glad to see your book doing so well! Congrats to Laura too — so many exciting things happening for deserving writers:)

  5. Stina Lindenblatt May 23, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Awesome advice Becca. I’ve never thought of analyzing them separately before. I’m definitely doing that for my new WIP. 😀

  6. Christina Lee May 23, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    I love the idea of each scene taking you somewhere emotionally! This is GREAT! Aaand Becca and Laura, have both of your books and am already reading —WOooooT!

  7. Laura May 23, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I love finding new ways to revise. I have a system but sometimes trying something different is good! Thanks, Becca!

  8. Matthew MacNish May 23, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    This is great advice. If only I were so organized.

  9. Elana Johnson May 23, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

    Holy cow. My mind has been blown. Just #1 about numbering stuff is amazing! I so need to do this! Genius.

  10. Cynthia C Willis May 23, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

    I really like your system. It makes sense that it would be easier to see where revision is necessary when reading a subplot in isolation or near isolation.

  11. angelaackerman May 23, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    I really need help when revising, so this is a great approach to try. Thanks for sharing your brain with us, Becca! 🙂


  12. Donna K. Weaver May 23, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    I’ve never been into titling chapters, but doing it for my own organization is brilliant. I have a feeling my chapter titles might end up being long like the Jake chapters in the Twilight books. lol

  13. Marcy Kennedy May 23, 2012 at 7:53 pm #

    Don’t enter me in the giveaway because I already have a copy, but I wanted to say what a great post this is. I love systems too, and I hadn’t thought before about separating out the subplots when it came time to edit to see whether I’d left them alone too long or whether I’d left arc gaps that needed to be filled.

  14. Sherrie Petersen May 24, 2012 at 3:35 am #

    So cool that they put this into a book! I usually have a separate document with my scene outline, but I always number and name my chapters. It helps me focus on the point of that chapter.

    My most overused phrase? Geez, I have so many! I know I like the word “just” a lot. It tends to pop up when I talk, send emails, and all over my manuscripts.

  15. Traci Kenworth May 24, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    Great lessons and ones I’ll be sure to look into when I edit my wip. Thanks, Becca!!

  16. Miss Jack Lewis Baillot May 24, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    That makes editing seem less daunting, which I like. Whenever I go to edit I start thinking, “I CAN’T DO THIS! There is too much to keep an eye out for!! Too much to remember!! AHHH!” Or something along those lines.

    I like your system though. It makes editing appear doable. Thanks for the advice! I love advice.

  17. Heather Sunseri May 24, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Great advice, Becca. And I’d have to agree with the “Don’t be afraid of extra work,” in the editing/revising stage.

  18. Leslie Rose May 25, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    Yes, I will be shamelessly stealing this system.

  19. PK Hrezo May 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    I’m in this process right now. I just deleted a whole character cuz in retrospect I realized other characters could serve his same purpose.

  20. Karen Lange May 25, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Great info, thanks so much! 🙂

  21. becca puglisi May 26, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    If any of you use this system and it helps in a specific way, I’d love to hear about it. Or if anyone else has a system, I’m always looking for new and better ways to edit 🙂

  22. Karen Strong May 26, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    This is really helpful advice. Layering makes a novel have more depth. Thanks for hosting Becca. The book is definitely on my TBR list. Love craft books and I already know that this one is winner.


  1. Saturday Special « The Author Chronicles - May 26, 2012

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