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The Second Step to Revision: Scene Techniques and Plot

Well, friends, you've made it through that first informative read of your story. Congrats! Reading that first messy draft can sometimes feel overwhelming, but with the tracking sheets I provided in my newsletter, you now have a clear plan of what needs to be cut, cleared, revised, and re-created.

With tracking sheets/recipe in hand, I took a deep dive into Lisa Cron's Story Genius, K.M. Weiland's Structuring Your Novel, and Savannah Gilbo's podcast and blog. I took out the most delectable morsels of advice and compiled them below to help build stronger scenes, one POV character at a time.


Each scene in your novel should be able to stand on its own with enough context to allow your reader to jump back in after a night's sleep or a few days away. I love this quick read over at Savannah Gilbo's blog on "Don't Start a Scene Without These Three Things":

  • Where and when is the scene taking place?

  • What is your protagonist thinking and feeling?

  • What does your protagonist want?


The questions from above made me pause and reflect on each of my POV characters' backstories, emotional wounds, or misbeliefs. After reading Lisa Cron's Story Genius, I began to ask a lot more questions about my characters. Cron discusses the idea of a third rail or the emotional backbone of your story. This third rail is built on:

  • A deep-seated desire: What has your character wanted badly for a long time? (motivations/wants)

  • A defining misbelief: A source of fear that holds them back from achieving their desire. (wounds)

I took time to brainstorm very specific scenes for each of my character's wounding moments that led to their misbeliefs. I took her advice and tried to make these moments as specific as possible. I then integrated portions of these scenes into my story at various points. I'm still learning when best to add backstory details to allow greater tension, but I already see a big impact in emotional resonance.


In my story, I've really been working on having each scene serve a cause-and-effect purpose in moving my plot forward. One easy way to make sure that each scene has its own arc of change (inciting event, turning point, crisis moment, climax, resolution) is by using the concept of value shifts. Savannah Gilbo has an awesome post about VALUE SHIFTS and how to edit your scenes with this in mind.

I added a column to my tracking sheets so I can check if my scenes are moving from positive (toward desire/goal) to negative (obstacles/fears/antagonists in the way), and vice versa over the course of my story. I was able to apply my learning from Lisa Cron and consider the "third rail" or internal emotional plot in addition to the external plot. Ideally, I wanted to see changes in both of these areas.


The last area I looked at in this stage was related to story structure. My go-to expert for STORY STRUCTURE has been K.M. Weiland. She is masterful with breaking down plot structure and pacing in a way that makes sense and gives me clear benchmarks. I reviewed her book and a few of her podcasts to help ensure my key plot points were occurring when and where I intended them to be. Because I have multiple POVs in this story, I made sure each character was pursuing their own story arc with the larger story structure elements included.

I also gave special attention to my resolutions, as I had a LOT of plot, sub-plot, and internal emotional considerations to keep in mind. I'm still working on this, but each character is left in a place of greater understanding and with new hopeful questions realized through their experiences. I still have a few loose ends related to secondary characters, but I'm excited to clean that up in my next round of revisions with the help of Beta Readers.

TASTE TEST TIME (aka Beta Reader Time):

I am bravely sharing my work with three trusted people at this stage of revision (My hubby, my agent, and my critique partner). Why? Before I invest any additional time in this story, I want to make sure it is working - for a reader, for a publishing professional, and for a more experienced writer. I am so closely tied to the characters and plot, I am apt to miss something...or many things! If you have someone you trust who will be honest, send it their way. Feel free to add a disclaimer that you still have two rounds of revisions to go!

NEXT POST: Get ready to go deep with emotions and tension!

(Be sure to check back to my first post: Revise your Story in Four Essential Steps (The Cupcake Method) for an overview of all the steps I'll be covering. )


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