I’ve been considering the topic of content edits over the last few days, since I’m dealing with a first round of edits right now. Today I wanted to focus on something that is obvious for us writers: so obvious that we sometimes forget to do it.
When you realize that something in your plot doesn’t hold together, it’s important to ask why that is before trying to fix the story.
MASKING VERSUS CORRECTING
You see, masking a problem versus fixing it can be two different things.
When you–or your editor and beta readers–don’t focus on the reason that some aspect of your plot isn’t holding up, your chances of just masking the issue, rather than fixing it, go up.
If a character is acting inconsistently–propounding one point of view in one scene and then acting against it with no real consideration of it in a future scene, the real issue could be any number of things.
I came up against this very scenario this morning…. within three scenes a character (my protagonist, sorcerer Zate) keeps changing his mind back and forth about whether it makes sense to involve the village guard in investigating disappearances in the vicinity.
Before making changes, I considered what was at the root of this inconsistency. Why was it there? There were a number of possibilities.
- I as the author might not have known what the character really thought when I started writing. In my personal opinion, actions speak louder than words, so when this is the case in my drafts, I try to make a character’s arguments consistent with his actions (rather than changing what he does). I try to make earlier actions consistent with later ones. Since I wrote the early stuff first, I generally didn’t know the character as well at that point and his true self came out later.
- I might have missed a chance to focus on character development. Has the character grown past his original view of things? If this is the case, the error is not in the character’s actions. It’s in me not making clear that he has legitimately begun to think in a different way, to view life from a different (and hopefully more mature) perspective.
- The character is a hypocrite and I don’t make that clear in my tone. People do and say things that contradict each other all the time. Characters can definitely do this. Subtle hints in tone, dialogue, and narration can successfully hint, when this is the case, that a character is a hypocrite and generally knows it and doesn’t care. Or, conversely, that he is a hypocrite and doesn’t recognize the fact. Again, the problem here is with my writing, not the plot as it stands.
It so happened my problem was the first one. I just hadn’t developed the story enough to know what my character would want to do from the start. I was writing during NaNoWriMo, and pushed ahead full steam ahead.
Which is fine…. That’s what editing is for when you write the way I do: getting everything right after the fact.
ASKING “WHY” WILL FIND YOU THE BEST FIX
After recognizing the nature of my plot problem, I saw that I needed consistency for this character, who should not be changing his mind about involving the guard, neither willy-nilly nor for a reason. I cut and altered dialogue so that Zate consistently proposes bringing in the guard as the only viable option.
So, I hope that example was helpful. I hope, if nothing else, it’s a nice reminder not to fix things at the surface level so that they APPEAR to fit together, but to go deeper and see how everything fits at the seams.
When it comes to fixing issues with your plot, you’ve got to consider why the problem is a problem in the first place.
Multiple solutions are possible, but only one is the BEST one for your story. I mean, I could have emphasized Zate being wishy-washy. I could have found some way to show that no, I didn’t forget what Zate had said about involving the guard in the last scene; he simply changed his mind.
It still would have made for awful writing and a character who was difficult to understand.
So, I hope you enjoyed this post! If you’d like to keep up with my blog, you can sign up to follow by email at the top right of the page.
If this topic was of interest of you, you might enjoy these other posts centered around editing.
- Creative Writing Workshop: Breaking Down Content Edits
- Taking Brainstorming One Step Farther To Aid In Editing
- Going “Deeper” In Your Fiction
- What Are Your “Writing Tics”?