Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Self-Editing Checklist: Consistency (Plus a Dynamite Giveaway!)

No, I'm not giving away dynamite...That might get me arrested. But I am offering a fabulous giveaway for people who want to propel their writing to a dynamite level. Curious? Keep reading. :)

Remember that self-editing checklist I've talked about in my previous posts? We're moving on to Point #3 this week. I call this one Consistency. (For points 1 & 2, click here.)

Under consistency, consider the following items for each of your scenes.

a) Have you left any dangling subplots or story lines? If so, is it intentional or do you need to fill in the gaps? In my last post, you may have gathered that I'm a spreadsheet nerd. So how do you suppose I track my subplots? That's a spreadsheet. :) Whether you're a plotter or a pantser, I highly recommend you keep track of your scenes somehow, whether it's in Excel or on index cards.

In Excel, I create a column called Plot/Subplots. In my latest book, I have the primary plot of the romance between my main characters Brogan and Ivy, but I also have subplots of Ivy's troubled relationship with her dad, her struggle to get out of debt, and her job for her ex-boyfriend, to name a few. Next to each scene, I indicate which plot/subplots are addressed. It's not foolproof, but it does help me recognize if I've ignored the debt subplot for 20 straight chapters.

Resources: Camy Tang talks about subplot threads in this Story Sensei post.

b) Does the character's emotional or spiritual arc flow? Does your character hate her father in one scene and then give him a big old hug in the next? If so, there'd better be a reason. Jerking the reader up and down with willy-nilly character emotions will just unsettle them. Make sure the emotional arc picks up where it left off in the previous scene and move it forward from there.

Resources: For a quick hit on emotional arcs, check out this article. If you want to take your character's emotional arc (and your writing) to the next level, I highly recommend Margie Lawson's AMAZING course, Empowering Character Emotions. In case you didn't sign up after Casey's post last week, you can buy Margie's lecture packets (over 280 pages!) for only $22. It's seriously the steal of the century when you consider the AMAZING (yes, I used that word twice in one paragraph) things you'll learn.

Your homework for the next two weeks, should you choose to accept it: Read the articles I've referenced. And if you're ready to learn like crazy, buy Margie Lawson's lecture packet and gobble it up like your Thanksgiving turkey. Then analyze your scenes for consistency.

But wait! (Do you feel like you're watching an infomercial yet?) Remember that dynamite giveaway I mentioned? For one lucky commenter, I'm offering the choice of any one of Margie's lecture packets! The winner will be announced in our weekend edition.

Do you keep track of your plots and subplots? If so, how? How closely do you pay attention to the character arc?

*Rock climbing photo by Bill Longshaw /
** Curve photo by Filomena Scalise /


Christine Long said...

In my first draft, I just write the story as it happens in my head. (Scary!) I've found using a program like Scrivner helps me pull the pieces apart so I can put them back together again. Sometimes I lose a few (they seem to wander around in cyber space) moving them from one program to another, but eventually it all seems to get into the right place. Then I just keep editing.

I looked at her site and would LOVE to win one of her packets!

teaching by writing [at] yahoo [dot] com

Julia said...

I am DEFINITELY taking one of Margie's courses. Casey suggested not taking it until after I finish with my first draft but hopefully after the summer.

I seriously love that you are so organized about your plotting :) Do you find your subplots often change during the writing process? It does for me anyway.

Great series, Sarah!!

Anonymous said...

It's been great reading these editing tips.

I keep track of my plots by summarising all of the chapters and re-reading them over and over. Emotional arcs are easier for me, I treat the story much like a theatre script. Although, it has made me think about a relationship between my main character and her step-father. Perhaps showing a development by the end.

Angie Dicken said...

Ooh, I am going to start paying more attention to my character arc! Thanks for the tips!!

Keli Gwyn said...

I sense a kindred spirit in you, Sarah. I love editing and worksheets. I have a detailed scene log that I set up in Excel. One of my entries for each scene is Story Threads. This is where I keep track of all those little secondary plots so I make sure I'm advancing them and don't leave any loose ends dangling at the end of the book.

Ralene said...

Yes, I keep track of my plots and my head. lol... I'm learning b/c of some dangling subplots that I need to be more purposeful in keeping track of those. I have a small outline for the plot and each subplot. It's working for me so far!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Christine, I've heard awesome things about Scrivener! I love your description of things wandering in cyber space. Is there such a thing as cyber black holes? :)

Julia, I agree with Casey's advice. And to answer your question, I don't often find my subplots changing at a high level since I tend to plan everything in advance. But I have found them shifting a bit. For instance, I knew Ivy would have debt problems when I first started the story, but her debt took a different path than I originally envisioned. Does that make sense?

Sarah Forgrave said...

Freya, What a great way to approach your emotional arcs. I love it when characters surprise me with a new revelation. :)

Angie, I've recently started including a high-level overview of character arcs when I plot the story, and it makes such a difference. So glad this was helpful for you!

Sarah Forgrave said...

Keli, Kindred spirits indeed. You didn't happen to be a CPA in your former life, did you? :)

Ralene, LOL, I'd have problems if I kept track of subplots in my head. They'd get lost in the midst of dirty diapers and potty training. Messy place to be. :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Sarah, not a CPA, although I was pursuing that degree for years before I realized I'm more suited to words than numbers. That revelation came to me in calculus class. *Shudder*

I worked as a bookkeeper for years, mostly as an accounts receivable clerk. I speak debits and credits, although not fluently like you. =)

Beth K. Vogt said...

I use Susan May Warren's Book Buddy ( to brainstorm my characters, my plot, my subplots, my spiritual thread--you name it. It's filled with questions and charts to help me figure it all out--and even write out a synopsis. Invaluable!!

Chazley Dotson said...

I once covered an entire wall in color-coded notecards to fix all my subplot holes! The emotional consistency is something I hadn't thought much about, but I know that when I'm done with a draft and I reread the whole book over a two-day period, inconsistencies like that really jump out! Thanks for the great post!

Me said...

I usually track my plots and subplots with colored index cards. For my next WIP, I'm going to try using Storyboard. I like how you can put your ARCs side by side and keep the time line in order. Thanks for the great post and resources!

Unknown said...

So far, I just jot notes down at the end of the draft, indicating things to happen, plot/subplot elements to address, etc. The spreadsheet idea is a good one, though. I think I'll try it with a short story and then see how it works for a longer project.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Hello, I just "discovered" your blog tonight. :) I'm new in the writing world, but I tend to be a planner. After re-starting my story three times, I am also using Susan May Warren's Book Buddy to plan my story. It's helping me really think through my characters, their arcs and the plot/subplot necessites.I am sure I'll have to figure other things out when I am more actively writing my story (again). I have learned a lot from this blog and what you other writers have shared. Thanks! The giveaway sounds great!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks for the editing tips. Each post of this series has been wonderful and useful:)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Keli, I knew there was more to you than meets the eye. :)

Beth, I haven't heard of that resource. Thanks for sharing!

Chazley, A whole wall of note cards?! That gives a new meaning to the word 'wallpaper'. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Rachel, Side-by-side arcs...Sounds like a great resource! Glad this post was helpful. :)

Sarah Forgrave said...

Tom, Good idea to test things out with a short story. Glad you stopped by!

Jeanne, So glad you found us! And another Susan May Warren fan is always welcome here. :)

Mary, Thanks for the encouragement!

Pepper said...

Sorry I'm just getting around to your wonderful post, Sarah.
BUSY time of year at the university level. I'm SOOOO ready for May!!!
You know, I purchased Margie Lawson's Character Emotion lectures last October and haven't read them yet. Argh. Time keeps tickin'....
May Goals:
1. Finish my WIP
2. Complete Margie's class
3. Find babysitters for summer

Priorities, my dear ;-)
Thanks so much for the helpful tools you're providing through this editing series.

KimberlyFDR said...

I write my first draft off an outline, but as the character's personality fully forms over the course of the book I go back and fix earlier indications. I also note ahead so that if I bring up a certain plot point (character lost his cell phone) he resolves that before it becomes an issue (character needs cellphone before chapter 8 when it's vital).

jenniecoughlin said...

Just found this site, and will have to explore in more detail!

For plots/subplots, I keep track in a rough scene outline in the main file, plus I have a friend who's been my main first-read editor for years who reads over my shoulder in Google Docs and lets me know if plot threads have gotten lost. She's got a spreadsheet for a brain, so the combination works well. :)

Colin Matthew ( said...

I have all my scenes in separate word files. It can get messy having 60+ word documents in a single file but this is what I attempted with my first novel. To keep track of the different plots, each scene is named in a way that reminds me what a scene is about. For example "Rodney and Hilary go to New York" or "Pamela Wins a Cake".

Sarah Forgrave said...

Pepper my dear, Do you realize what power you have on your computer w/ those lecture packets? But I understand the importance of priorities. First things first, right?

Kimberly, Good call on noting the missing cell phone (no pun intended). :) Sounds like you've got a good system in place.

Matthew, Wowzers, that's a lot of Word docs! :) The nice thing in Excel is that you can copy new tabs for each draft version and then have them all in one file. But it's definitely not as convenient for long stretches of text. Thanks for stopping by today!

Kathy said...

I've taken Margie's class twice and I still didn't get it all. It is so packed with information. I don't plot I just went with a summary for the story I'm writing. I sort of playing it by ear thinking in the back of my mind if my heroine and hero have changed any through this story.

Sharon said...

an amazing amount of help here! thank you!
infuse at live dot ca

Sarah Forgrave said...

Kathy, It's so hard to absorb everything in Margie's class in one go-around, isn't it? Good stuff!

Sharon, Glad to be of help. :) Have a great weekend!

Roara said...

the weird thing is my stories kinda write themselves I never know where it's going until we get there. I've always had trouble getting over the half way mark but on this newest project it is easier than before. Things occur while I write or hit me in the supermarket and I find I have to go back and things tighten up as I go... this book is writing me more than I am writing it ... It's interesting.

Sarah Forgrave said...

Roara, I love it when those characters talk to us during everyday life. My favorite place for brain bursts is while I'm driving. Kinda scary for all the other drivers out there. :)