Monday, September 16, 2013

How to Add To Your Plot After You've Finished The First Draft

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

On Wednesday, I posted about the editing process. In the discussion that followed, several writers asked if I had any advice on editing their books to make them longer.

Writers tend to either write long or write short. I've always written short, so I understand where you're coming from. I will say, however, that every first draft I write is longer than the previous one. I think it's because I've gotten better at creating more complex story ideas before I even start the book. So just because your novels are coming out at 40 or 50k now doesn't mean it'll always be like that.

But if you want to make your first draft longer, you need to:

Add a subplot or plot layer

The easiest way to beef up your story without adding senseless filler is to add a subplot or plot layer. What's the difference between the two?

Subplot: Has everything a regular plot has only on a smaller scale. Has an inciting incident, a black moment, and a resolution. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the storyline of Buckbeak, Hagrid's hippogriff, is a subplot - it has a beginning, middle, and end.

Plot layer or thread: This is something that enhances the main plot. Things like the main character's best friend getting kicked out of her house and bunking up with her. While that thread will likely resolve by the end of the story, it's not something that has all the elements of a plot. 

Going back to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Hermione's impossibly heavy class load and her strange ability to take classes that overlap each other, is a plot layer. It doesn't have a beginning, middle, and end. (Though, you'll notice, both the subplot of Buckbeak and the plot layer of Hermione's secret play a part in the resolution of the book.)

Make sense?

Here's what I do when I'm trying to add a subplot or plot layer after having written my first draft:

  1. I write each scene of my manuscript on a note card and post them in chronological order on my cork board.
  2. I brainstorm what additions I could make to the story. I try to think of things that will deepen the conflict for my main character, since those don't feel like filler. As opposed to things like, "Ellie gets a cat." (Though if you plan for the cat to go missing, that could certainly deepen conflict.)
  3. Next I examine the other characters in my cast. Who could use more fleshing out? Or who has a rich backstory that I'm not utilizing as much as I could? I give myself time to brainstorm ways I could enhance my cast as well.
  4. Usually after a few days of brainstorming, I have some clear winners (and losers) in my pile of ideas. So now it's time to brainstorm big scenes that need to be added. Usually there are two or three bigger scenes that need to be added per plot layer/subplot. I write those down on different colored index cards and post them on my wall with my original note cards. This way I can see where I think the new scenes will fit in.
  5. Then I skim over all the note cards and mark scenes that I already know will need revisions because of my new storylines.
  6. I write my new scenes and plop them into the manuscript.
  7. I reread my entire manuscript and make revisions along the way to weave in my new stuff.

That's what has worked for me! 

31 comments:

  1. Ok, this is like, totally awesome! I just played a thread (?) Into my story today for the first time. It is playing into the story nicely and getting me to brainstorming more. :D

    Thanks! (Btw, who was the winner of the giveaway?)

    Tw

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    1. Which give away, TW? Captives? I'm actually still trying to give it away. I'm having trouble tracking down people...

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  2. Thanks for this post! I've always had the problem of a short novel.

    This'll give me good ideas.

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  3. It sounds like a good idea for the process. Thanks for the information.

    By the way, I am excited for the next Ellie Sweet book to come out! I enjoyed the first one a lot!

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  4. Hey...I think I'm actually doing this right now. I'd have to say it's a plot layer/thread, because it doesn't have a beginning-middle-end...just gives some extra conflict and such. It may turn into a subplot later in the story though. Hm. Anyway, thanks! I never knew there was a difference between a subplot and a thread. And it's good to know I'm doing this right for once ;)

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  5. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is one of my favorite books EVER. So many cool themes going on in that book. Plus, like you said, I love how all the subplots/plot threads weave together at the end to form a beautiful climax. ;)
    But seriously, yeah, I think that subplots can totally help here if trying to make a book bigger. :) I have a side character who's role I could probably enlarge.

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    1. And I have began to notice lately that my books that started out as 30k are now lenthing to 40 or 50k, so I think you're right that part of it is just a time thing.

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    2. Okay, good. Glad someone else feels that way too :)

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  6. This is perfect for where I am right now! I know I need another plot layer/sub plot in there somewhere. Probably plot layer. Anyway, thanks Stephanie :)

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  7. Thank you for answering my (and others') question, Stephanie! I'm sure this will help in the long run :)

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  8. I was just thinking about this this morning. :) This answers my questions, and it gives me a good idea on how to exactly do it. Now, since I don't have a corkboard, I will probably resort to using the refrigerator and some magnets, if I can find any. ;)

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    1. I don't have a corkboard either. That's a good idea! Although I doubt my family will like it too much if I clear off the fridge and fill it with my index cards...

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    2. Haha! That is a problem... :))))))

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    3. The other thing I've used is big framed posters. I would take them off the wall and then tape my index cards to them. That worked fine, and then my mom saw it one time and was like, "I'm getting you a corkboard for Christmas." :)

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    4. Good one! I do have a big framed poster, so I'll probably end up doing that!

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    5. I don't have any posters either. Or much wall space since I've taped pictures and stuff to the wall I do have, and my sisters' stuff is on the other ones. xD Oh well! I'll figure something out.

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    6. HOw about a mirror? :)

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  9. Thanks Stephanie!
    I'm usually a novelist, but recently I have begun writing a non-fiction self-help book. Do you have any advice or could you do a post on non-fiction writing?

    -Shaneene

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    1. Non-fiction is so different... The only non-fiction I've ever written is the Go Teen Writers book, which would be really different than a self-help book. I'm sure there's lots of great info out there about writing books like that. I would just run a Google search and see what comes up.

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  10. This is a great post for ideas for first drafts too! And haha it's funny that you mentioned "Ellie gets a cat" as an example for something that doesn't affect the plot because in the Prisoner of Azkaban "Hermione gets a cat" added a whole plot thread into the story. Or maybe it was the catalyst for a subplot?

    On a completely unrelated note, have any of you guys seen the new Harry Potter covers? Usually I'm opposed to changes like that but these are actually really cool :)

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    1. Oh, that's so funny! I didn't even realize I did that. Maybe it's why that popped into my head :)

      I haven't seen them yet! Do you have a link, Maya?

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    2. Umm I found this one: http://mashable.com/2013/07/31/harry-potter-new-book-covers/

      But if it doesn't work, for me it came up as soon as I typed "new h" in Google :)

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  11. I can see how that can be difficult to do when you've already written a whole draft of a novel. Usually I just take a HUGE chunk of time to make everything fit together before I start writing.

    I don't consider a story a string of events, but rather strings of events and people woven together.

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  12. The idea of notecards sounds exactly like Scrivener, which I've been experimenting with. I'll have to try out this idea, and maybe familiarize myself with my new tool while I'm at it!

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  13. TANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!!!!!!

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