Writing: back to the drawing board?

Recently, I got to face a tough question with my story. One that may be a matter of opinion. An issue that isn’t too large, but fixing it is. So I’ll look at it with some thoughts about how to deal with small problems that may need a lot of work.

The problem

So, what is my specific problem? The second book of my WIP has two major plots (tied to dealing with the primary and secondary antagonists, respectively) and a personal (romantic) subplot for the MC. The major plots ended up okay on their own – so there isn’t that much to adjust on each of them beyond some polishing and slight pacing issues. That’s the good part. The bad part is that they do feel (rightfully so) like separate plots. The romantic subplot has major pacing issues – long story short (pun not intended), it’s a bit too long in the final part.

I had two choices: keep those three issues separate, approach them like separate problems, and solve each on their own. That would take a relatively short time. Or I could take the long way: see the story as a whole, weave those three plot threads closer together, and hopefully resolve the pacing issues for all of them.

My reaction

Well, the first thing that came to my mind was that, if I had the story printed, I’d probably either burn it or throw it out of the window. Once I took a couple of deep breaths, I realized the first step to make: take a break, clear your mind, and analyze the problem. The good part is that this happened in autumn and a hike (or three) in the colorful, misty woods helps my imagination.

After a break – which took almost a month – I was ready to get back and consider what seemed like an impossible task. Then, I let my analytic mind take over through a couple of steps.

Find the source

Fixing a mistake is one thing, but I believe it’s important to see how it happened (maybe I should stop watching Mayday: Air disaster…). In my case, the truth is that the early concepts did presume each of those two major plots would be a separate book. But as each turned out to be around half the size of book one, I decided to put them into one book. The problem was: I took two plots but didn’t truly make them one story.

Asses the damage

Okay, this is beginning to sound like a Mayday episode.

Anyway, what I had to do first is to take a fresh look at the story – a chapter list worked well – and see the real damage. The current draft is ~180k words across 62 chapters. But not all of that will have to be reworked. The first 14 chapters – around 20% – are unaffected. It’s similar on the tail end where the final sequence (6 chapters) will only need to be checked for weather (by that, I mean checking whether it happens in the same season and what impact it may have on the scenery but the action sequences aren’t affected much). By that, I already have around 30-40% of the story that won’t need much work.

The rest… action sequences may not be affected much apart from weather check. Some other sequences may be just as lucky. The hard part will be the “calms” between the “storms” – it’s the dialogue that’ll need rigorous reworks and double-checks to avoid anachronisms – especially referencing something that, in the new order of things, hasn’t happened yet.

Reassemble the wreckage

With the undamaged sections identified, I had to come up with a new order of events. This does really look like an investigation – drawing timelines and other diagrams helps with shuffling the events around and I quickly added one major item to my to-buy list when I’ll be moving out: a whiteboard, preferably 1×1,5 meter at least. It would come in handy. For now, I was stuck with just a pen and a sheet of standard 210x297mm office paper.

The first task was to deal with the two major plot elements and find a way to interweave them. I had to identify events that need to happen at a certain time of the year (you can’t hold a Solstice Ball too far from the solstice, for example) as well as events directly tied to them. Those became my anchors.

Then came the remaining scenes. Some do favor a particular time of year, and I approached those next. After that, I was left with scenes that relied little on those aspects. By following a priority system, I soon had a draft of the new order of events in the form of a timeline drawing. The last step was to create a spreadsheet with two columns – the original order of chapters, and the to-be new order.

Reconstruct the story

At this point, the last step remains: to rewrite the story according to the new order of events. I plan to start with the two major plot points and adjust the romance subplot on the go, giving it a separate draft for further adjustments if necessary. On the way, I’ll look for potential places to foreshadow book three, deepen character development, and any other potential improvements.

This part should be easier if the previous steps were done well, but it’ll take a lot of time. For a story of my size, I guess at least a couple of months. Time will tell.

I guess that’s how writing goes – you never know what pops up. Some issues are easy to tackle, some may take a lot of thinking and a lot of editing to fix. If something similar happened (or happens in the future) to you, don’t despair, you’re not alone.

And if you want something that’s closer to a guide (and that proves the point it happens to others) – K.M. Allan faces a similar issue and has a bit more what-to-do post on that matter.

If you’ve been in such a spot, you’re welcome to share your experience with such a problem and how you approached it.

4 thoughts on “Writing: back to the drawing board?

  1. Pingback: 12/2021 Writing update | Tomas - the wandering dreamer

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