The Blog of John Hewitt

Adding and revising scenes in your novel

When you begin adding and revising scenes for your novel, the process is a little different than writing a first draft. Your goals are different because at this point, you are filling in missing information and working within the constraints of what already exists. Your characters, tone and plot have already been set, and you are now either expanding on what you have or looking to make serious changes to one or more of those elements.

Here are some tips for writing new and revised scenes for your novel:

  • Take the time to read the surrounding text. If you are adding a scene, read the previous and following scenes again so that you can refresh your memory about what happened and get a feel for the writing style you have been using.
  • Don’t get too caught up in exposition. When adding scenes that bridge gaps in time or plot, you can often find yourself focusing more on moving the story forward than on writing a good scene. Remember that each scene must stand on its own.
  • Keep a backup of each draft. Sometimes when you are revising, you make changes or deletions that you later regret. Its good to have an older version to refer back to.
  • Be patient. Creating the perfect new scene in the middle of a novel is no easy task. You won’t always get it right, or even close to right, on the first try. Don’t be afraid to start over if you don’t like the way the scene is going.
  • Pay attention to your notes and to your information guide. It can be easy to forget what your goals are when you are in the middle of a revision. Take the time to get yourself back on track.
  • Think about the ramifications of your revisions. If your rewrite changes the motivations of a character, for example, make sure that the other scenes in the novel reflect that different motivation.
  • Consider revisions that are dedicated to a specific purpose, such as improving dialog, expanding descriptions or strengthening relationships.

Creating a new roadmap for your novel

At this point, you are ready to perform a comprehensive reevaluation of your novel. Until now, the draft of your novel has been too rough for clear evaluation. Distractions such as grammar, spelling and chronology make it difficult to honestly evaluate your work. If you’ve been following the steps, you should have a relatively clean and readable copy of your first draft and plenty of notes. You should be able to read through the draft now with a more objective eye toward your long-term goals. You can face the more daunting questions such as:

  • Does the story make sense and is it believable?
  • What are the major themes, and do any of them need to be changed?
  • How is the overall tone of my novel and is it consistent?
  • What plot problems need to be solved?
  • Are there characters that need to be added, changed or eliminated?
  • Is the focus of the novel on the right characters and plot points?

This is the point at which you can begin to make the comprehensive changes that either get you closer to your original goals, or help you achieve new goals. Once you are clear about what your goals are, you need to create a plan for achieving those goals. As part of that plan you should be prepared to create a revised plot outline. Your new plot outline should be based on the chronology you created earlier. The new outline, however, will serve as a roadmap toward achieving your new goals. At minimum, it should include the following.

  • Planned new scenes
  • Planned revisions of old scenes
  • Scenes to be eliminated

It may also include other revision elements such as:

  • New or revised characters
  • Eliminated characters
  • Changes to settings
  • Changes to tone or themes
  • New plot points

Once you have a roadmap, you can start a comprehensive revision of your novel. In the next article I’ll cover writing new scenes and revising old scenes.

Sample information guide for your novel

This is a brief example of an information guide. There are no hard and fast rules for information guides, so feel free to customize this to fit your needs.

Spelling and Usage

This is a place to put down any special words or jargon that the characters use.

Acronyms:

OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
D&D: Short for Dungeons and Dragons, a game played by many of the older characters when they were teenagers.

Terms:

Detachment Disorder: A feeling of emotional distance from one’s life. This term is coined by Roland August. It is not a real-life name for a disorder.
Nevendad: Short for Never Ending Adventures. A fictionalized online game that combines elements of World of WarcraftSecond Life and FaceBook.

Relationships

This usually works better graphically than in print, but here is a brief way to do it in print.

Chelsea August: Daughter of Anne August. Believes she is daughter of Roland August but her biological father is Henry Jarvis. Sister of Jake August. Models for Don Hau. Patient of Dr. Sharon Thewes, therapist. No close friends.

Mike Cove: Unmarried but living with Ella Aufran. Friends with Roland August, Anne August, Larry Parris, Henry Jarvis, Marisol Rivera.

Characters

This is a great place to record minor characters and give them brief descriptions

Marisol Rivera: Waitress at BD’s on 22nd Street. 24 years old. Five feet two inches tall. Black curly hair. Brown eyes. Dresses in black. Smokes clove cigarettes and wears too much mascara. Part-time college student studying art. Often drinks at the bar with Mike Cove after her shift is finished.

Dr. Sharon Thewes: 48 years old. Psychologist to Chelsea August. Teaches part-time at the community college in addition to maintaining her own practice. Dresses somewhat formally, preferring pantsuits in browns and grays. Believes in encouraging patients to find their own answers. Non-smoker, light drinker. Divorced.

This is a good place to track names and nicknames. Spelling and Usage can also be used for this.

Roland August (Called Rollie by wife and friends, Roland by colleagues, Dad by his children)

Jake August (Always called Jake, never by real name, Jacob)

Locations

You can use maps and other graphics in this section.

Street Names:

Wilmot Road
Speedway Boulevard
22nd Street

Place Names:

BD’s on 22nd (Sometimes called “VD’s”)
River Walk (Blanket term for Rillito River Park and Pantano River Park)
Park Place (Formerly called Park Mall)
Stone Fountain Meditation Center

Plot Points

This can be very detailed or bare bones, but it should reflect the chronology that you have created. Here are the first few scenes for my novel.

  1. Errol Jarvis attempts suicide
  2. Anne August sees Henry Jarvis after 22 years
  3. Henry and Anne rescue Errol
  4. Henry moves in with Errol
  5. Chelsea August has first modeling job
  6. Henry eats dinner at Anne and Roland August’s
  7. Henry meets Chelsea and suspects she is his daughter
  8. Mike Cove goes to work at BD’s, sees Henry
  9. Henry meets up with Larry Parris
  10. Roland visits a therapist

Creating an information guide for your novel

What is an information guide?

An information guide is a much like a style guide. A style guide is a set of rules and guidelines for a publication. Typical style guides focus on issues such as grammar, usage, spelling and capitalization. When creating a guide for a novel, however, there many additional things to keep track of such as character names, character histories, plot points, place names and descriptions. This is why I prefer to think of the guide for a novel as more of an informational guide than a style guide. It is a collection of all the key information in your novel.

Why should I keep an information guide?

Keeping track of a novel length work is a difficult task. Novels feature multiple characters and places, plot developments that can change relationships between characters, and in many cases (especially science fiction, fantasy or historical pieces) complex rules for how people interact or for the equipment they use. If you have a place where you can keep track of these things, it will prevent inconsistencies within the novel, which will help keep your story believable.

How should I format my information guide?

Different systems work for different people. If you like to work with pen and paper, it is perfectly fine to create a notebook and write things down as you read. Spreadsheet programs and word processors are also perfectly workable solutions. For my project, I am using Microsoft OneNote, which I have discussed before.

Whatever medium you choose, you will want to create a series of headings and subheadings for the different categories that you want to keep track of. General categories include spelling and usage, relationships, characters, locations and plot. If you have been taking notes as you read and edited your novel, this is a way that you can now organize those notes into a useful document.

How do I use the information guide?

Once the information is created, you should consult it whenever you have any questions. You should also use it in future edits to revise for consistency. You should also be prepared to make changes as you move along. As long as you are still making changes to your novel, you shouldn’t consider your information guide complete. It is a living document that sets the rules for your novel, but is also flexible enough to be revised when you make changes to your novel.

Editing your novel as you read it

This is the more traditional approach that people think of when they think about editing a novel. The process is relatively simple.

  1. Consult the notes that you’ve been assembling and think about what you want to accomplish. You might want to reorder your notes so they fit the chronology of the novel.
  2. Begin at the beginning. Start reading and editing the novel from page one, working your way through to the end.
  3. Take more notes as you read. Think about what could be added, changed or eliminated.
  4. Edit and rewrite within reason. At this stage in the game, if you want to add a new paragraph here or there, go ahead. If you want to rewrite a scene, you can do it. Don’t go overboard though. A wholesale rewrite of your novel should not be your goal. Your goal should be to make what you currently have work better.

That is it for the process, but I do also have a few tips:

  • Don’t obsess over the beginning. Many writers get bogged down because they think that they need to rewrite the beginning over and over until they get it right. At this stage in the game, that is probably not possible. Settle for good.
  • It is acceptable to leave some or all scene rewrites and new scenes for later. We have a whole step just for new scenes. If you need to bridge a gap in the plot but you aren’t ready to write the scene, write a quick summary of what you think will happen in the bridging scene, then move on.
  • Save your earlier versions of the book. Hard drive space is cheap and plentiful. Take advantage of it. You may also want to save copies onto CDs or DVDs in case you run into computer problems. I usually send a copy of my work to my online email account so that I can access it from anywhere.
  • Don’t expect to solve every problem in the first run-through. If you don’t have a solution, make a note of the problem and move on.