There are things I know I need to do as I write that I don't always do in a first draft. Plot things, like a subplot that needs to be there, or a bit of information that has to be revealed for later events to work. This happens to me all the time, and I've gotten to the point where I just don't fret over it anymore when it happens. I know I'll fix it in revisions.
But I'll be honest here--sometimes it's a pain to find the right spot to add something and not mess up what you already have. But it can also lead to something seriously cool happening. An interesting part of Blue Fire occurred this way. There was a planned plot point I needed to slip in, and for the life of me, I just couldn't figure out how or where to do it. Finally I thought, "hmmm, what if this didn't happen?" and that opened the series to a much more interesting situation than I had originally planned.
Let's look at those leftover plot pieces, subplots, back story, or anything else that needs to go where it might not wanna go, and figure out how to make them read like you planned it all along.
Get a Lay of the Land
The first thing I do is look at what I need to insert, then check my outline or synopsis to see where it might work. It's also a good way to see logistically where it should go. It needs to happen before chapter six, but after chapter three kinda deal. If you don't outline, you can take notes or just jot down ideas in the text (or however you normally handle revision ideas and plans).
Giving a Little Help
Once I get a sense of the overall book, I look to see if there are any weak spots that might be fixed by this addition. Spots where the pacing drops or the stakes aren't high enough. Places where there's too little (or too much) action. Maybe this bit can add more conflict. Think outside the box here. You might have a plot point that can work with a little tweaking to that point, so don't be afraid to consider changing your original plan.
I'll read the chapters or scenes I think might work, keeping an eye out for any lines or situations where I can edit to lead into this new addition. Things I look for:
Mood: What's the emotional level behind the bit you want to add? If it's something that will make your character sad, another sad spot might be the perfect lead in.
Theme: Is there anything that thematically works with the new bit? If you're trying to insert something that shows the futility of war, is there a spot where people are doing something futile? Maybe you can use that as a trigger or a lead in. And speaking of triggers...
Triggers: Although our minds work in weird ways and thoughts pop in there for the weirdest of reasons, in books, there's usually a stimulus that triggers a thought or action so things don't feel stuck in or out of the blue. Is there anything that would cause your character to think about something that would naturally lead to the bit you need to add?
After I've found my spot, I start adding the plot bits. Sometimes this is a full scene, other times it's a line here or there. You have to be careful with this, because it's easy to stall the story with the new stuff if it doesn't flow smoothly. There's a good chance you'll change the pacing with the addition, so do a few read throughs to make sure the chapter or scene is still working as intended.
If you're anything like me, when you add stuff after the fact, you have a tendency to add too much. I always have to go back and read the entire sections I've changed as one big piece to see how it flows and to make sure I haven't said basically the same thing two or three times while finding the right spot for it. I also check to make sure I didn't de-rail something else, or shift focus too much so the character is in the wrong emotional state for what's really going on. Worrying about a minor detail when the world is coming to an end for example.
While this is specifically about plot points, this plan works for any information you want to add in. Need to flesh out a character arc? Add in foreshadowing? Do more world building? Just approach it the same way to help keep you organized.
How do you handle leftover or forgotten plot points? Do you revise in layers or tweak as you go? How do you handle a first draft?
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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