Saturday, May 4, 2013

Revising (Part Two) By the Numbers

In my last blog post, I talked about Revising (Part One) Tent Poles and Mile Markers, which are much like the skeletal structure of your manuscript. Today, I'm continuing this topic by zeroing in on
different ways to view your MS and gain insights in the revising process.

You may recall the infomercial section of my last post which pointed you toward Lydia Sharp's excellent blog posts on story structure, as well as Blake Snyder's screenwriter's book on writing, SAVE THE CAT. If you haven't already, check out Part One via this link, to brush up on the tent poles and mile markers of Act One. Got it? Good. Let's move forward with today's revision notes.

As I said, I'm working on structural edits of my MS. Since I'm discovering insights and gaining nuggets of knowledge during this process, I wanted to share these with you, many of whom are also writers on your own writing journey. I believe in sharing knowledge, so I won't hold these secrets too close. Instead I want to share them with you and hopefully, we can discuss these topics and help each other to write even better. How about it?

I've seen writers who color code each aspect of a plot and consider how these different aspects of plot drive forward, slow down, or even hinder a plot. For example, you might highlight dialogue in one color, back story in another, items that drive the plot forward in another color, and so forth. This technique also reveals insights if you apply it to your favorite books as a study tool. Take your copy of THE HUNGER GAMES, or any other novel you'd like, and photo copy the first chapter. Do not share this or repost it, just use it for your own learning (so as not to infringe on copy write). Decide how you will highlight, and mark up the copy. Compare this to your own troublesome chapter and see what you learn.

Try to find ways to view your MS differently. Here's my suggestion: Any chance you get to notice something new about your MS, or see it in a new and objective way, go with that and see what you uncover. Here's what I learned by making a list of my chapter word counts by the numbers:

ch 1: 2613
ch 2: 1559
ch 3: 1622
ch 4: 2393 (was 3600 before a huge cut)
ch 5: 910
ch 6: 1503
ch 7: 2171
ch 8: 2451 (subtotal for Catalyst 15222, should be 8K, eep!)
ch 9: 1792
ch 10: 1378
ch 11: 617
ch 12: 880
ch 13: 837
ch 14: 2808 (long winded, needs work)
ch 15: 1707
ch 16: 972

These numbers are subject to change, since I'm still revising, but they do immediately reveal several things about my Act 1 plot structure. Several chapters (bold) land above 2K words and need to be reduced or examined carefully to see if everything there is needed to move the plot forward. Likely, I'll find back story, jumbled chapters that need fine tuning, and trouble spots where the reader would easily lose interest.

So, just by looking at the MS by the numbers, it immediately highlighted where my trouble spots were, and how they affect the A1 tent poles. If I don't use this insight to work on my structural revision, I'll have a sluggish A1, and lose my readers before the main premise of A2.

I hope this makes sense and helps. Give it a try and tell me what you think in the comments below. Also, if you've got tips you'd like to share similar to this one, feel free to post that in the comments below. Happy writing and editing!


  1. I go by page count for chapters instead of word count, but it's the same concept. It's amazing how many ways you can break a manuscript down and analyze it.

  2. That's a great point, Kelly. Thanks for stopping by! :D