While working on a whole-novel revision this past week, I found I had a lot more organizing to do than when I started. I’d thought I was much farther along in the process. Even glancing over the whole, I realized my panster-vomited scenes and chapters, although with an okay beginning and an excellent ending and lots of good stuff in the middle, didn’t really have a flow or sensible plot arch. The story seemed nearly episodic, although I knew each scene was written for a reason. I’d previous cut out other chapters and scenes which were irrelevant to the overall plot, and knew there were places I needed to deeply revise, like changing the okay beginning to a can’t-wait-to-find-out-what-happens-next beginning. But for this part of revising, I needed to feel the overall flow worked.
In the back of my brain, I remembered something Friend Rose did with rearranging scenes. (Thanks, Rose.) If I remember right, she had post-it notes by chapters and scenes over her wall, and rearranged them as she thought of their logical placement. This she did with five children and all their friends running through the house. (Bless you, Rose.) So I adapted her idea into a lesson plan for organizing my middle grade plot arch on one sheet of paper. The former teacher in me continues to reign.
A first draft of a “completed” novel (digital or paper); List of main and minor plot threads; Table of Contents for your story; blank sheet of paper; pen; a second pen in case the first one runs out of ink; and thirty to fifty 1/2″ by 2″ post-it notes of yellow, green and blue. (The number of post-it notes needed will vary with each story.)
1) Set aside your draft and list of plot threads to only use as references.
2) Lay your blank sheet of paper landscape way (or as they’d say in elementary schools, the hot dog way).
3) Write your title on the very top of your paper.
4) About 4/5 of the way down draw a line across the page. Beneath this line and writing from the left to the right, put your chronological times (e.g., if your story covers five months, write the five months across the page; if your story covers a few weeks, write the number of weeks). This is your Plot-working Board.
5) Turn small post-it’s sideways (hot-dog way) with sticky bottom on the left side down).
6) On the green post-its, write the settings or weather patterns found throughout in the story. Scatter beneath the chronological line in appropriate order in your story.
7) On the blue post-its, write each chapter title. Place titles in appropriate locations above each chronological indication.
8) On the yellow post-its, describe each scene in three or so words (e.g., Dylan tricks Kilee abt ride; Shader confronts Mi Lin; Mom dies, etc.), and place beneath each chapter.
9) Cross your arms, sit back, stare at your pieced-together story. Are the plot threads sprinkled throughout? Should some scenes be switched? Do you see blanks in your plot? Are there Goals, Conflicts, and Disaster in each scene; and Reaction, dilemma, and Decision in each sequel?
10) During the next week, play with and rearrange your Plot Board. You may find you add new scenes to write, or crumble and throw away others. Keep rearranging until your plot makes the most sense possible.
11) Go back to your whole novel and update your Table of Contents, and reorder your scenes in your manuscript, and write any new ones.
12) Print out and do a quick read of the entire story, playing attention to plot arch and flow. If you’re satisfied, get others’ opinions (critique groups), revise again. Repeat as often as necessary.