Stuck in Revisions (and How I Get Through It)

Hello my giddy friends! Today’s post is all about revisions because—surprise, surprise—my currently-in-the-midst-of-revisions brain can’t seem to focus on anything else. I’m definitely not an expert in this (quite the opposite, in fact) but I’m hoping you can help me out. And maybe you’ll find something useful here, too.

For the past two months I’ve been working on revising my current WIP, and it has been sloooooow going. My WIP was written without an outline or any kind of planning. I literally had an idea, sat down that November and wrote the thing from beginning to end (thanks NaNoWriMo!). And the lack of planning SHOWS. Plot holes, inconsistencies, dropped characters, missing motivations—you name the problem, this draft has it.

I’ve been tackling these massive revisions in a few different ways. Three different ways, to be exact. And today I thought I’d share those with you.

1. The Plot Embryo

The plot embryo is actually a creation of Dan Harmon, writer of shows like Community and Rick and Morty. But I first learned about it thanks to authortuber Rachael Stephen who, aside from having a fantastic Scottish accent, shares consistently solid writing advice over on her YouTube channel.

Rachael has shared several videos in which she uses the method to fixing the plots of movies like Transformers and Brave, all of which I’ve found very helpful to understanding this method and story structure in general. I’ve been using the plot embryo extensively in my revisions, particularly the tragic plot embryo (for my villain.) I just draw out my own templates every time, but she has a printable here that comes with a handy guide on how to use the embryos if this method tickles your fancy.

2. Save the Cat! Writes a Novel

This method is frequently mentioned in the writing community, and, much like the embryo, is not necessarily just for revising. In fact, the book itself specifically encourages writers to revisit the Save the Cat! beat sheet (which you can see broken down here using The Hunger Games) at any stage of the writing process. But I have found it to be absurdly helpful in fixing my entirely pantsed and entirely broken story. Just going through the beat sheet helped me find exactly where the biggest problems were and gave me a place to start when the revision mountain seemed too big to climb.

Aside from the book itself, you can find authors all over the internet talking about Save the Cat! and its usefulness. Most recently I’ve joined Bethany Atazadeh and Brittany Wang in their new writing experiment, in which they use Save the Cat! to plot a story from scratch over the course of ten weeks. (Can you tell I spend too much time on YouTube?)

So far I’ve just been using this by writing out the basics of each “beat” in a document. In a different colored font I then write down what part of my story applies to each beat. If I don’t know, don’t have anything, or the piece feels flimsy or not compelling…well, then I know exactly what I need to work on.

3. Lists

Yep. Lists. This is by far the simplest method, but I’ve also been shocked at how effective I’ve found it to be.

The idea behind the List approach is that for everything you are stuck on, you make a list of ideas. Usually it’s only 5 or 10 things, but I think any amount should work as long as it’s long enough that you have to stretch your brain to fill in the last 2-3 ideas. And the reason it works is this: when you list out solutions, the first few will be the obvious choices. It’s in those stretching moments of figuring out number 8, 9, and 10, that you find something really juicy and compelling.

For example, in reading through the first draft of my current WIP I noticed that the stakes could be higher for my main character toward the end of the book. She needed something bad to happen to her, and I wanted to find something that would really get under her skin. I asked myself, “what’s the highest price my character could pay?” and made myself think of five answers.

  1. Death of the person she loves most (obvious choice, right? It would suck, but it was also my first thought.)
  2. Losing her hard-won sense of belonging.
  3. Being forever cut off from her new “found family”
  4. Sacrificing the person she loves most for the greater good. (This is where it’s starting to get a little more interesting, a little more compelling. Very similar to #1, but with higher stakes)
  5. Embracing the thing she hates/has been fighting against to be able to reach her ends.

I’m not saying these are the most original or show-stopping ideas (maybe I should push myself to extend the list to 10?). But hopefully this example illuminates the way a list can stretch your solutions to be more complex and unexpected. With any luck it will get your gears going for ways to up the stakes/solidify the climax/choose a character flaw/fill in a piece of the plot puzzle or whatever it is that has you stuck in your tracks.

So that’s how I’ve been diving into revisions this year. And after several very fraught weeks that consist mostly of sitting, and thinking, and staring off into space, I can say that my story is slowly starting to shape up into something I’m excited about. For me, that’s a major win.

So here’s what I want to know from you: Do you have methods you use when jumping into revisions? Are you already a fan of the ones I’ve shared here? If not, do you think you might use them in the future? Let me know in the comments!

Happy revising, friends!

(Link to featured image)

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