Book: Novel Revision Prompts - Make Your Good Book Great - Self-Edit Your Plot, Scenes & Style (Writer's Craft 17) by Rayne Hall
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Rayne Hallabout this book: Book #17 in Rayne Hall's Writer's Craft series, this guide helps authors with inspiration at the rewriting, revising and editing stage.
You've written a novel, and the draft brims with promise. Now you're revising it to shape it into a gripping work of fiction readers can't put down. This guide will help with ideas and advice.
The prompts are presented in three parts:
Plot Revision Prompts - These are great if you have a first draft, perhaps the result of a NanNoWriMo project, and want to shape it into a powerful, emotion-rousing book.
Scene Revision Prompts - These ideas transform dragging, dull scenes into riveting, reads.
Line Editing Prompts - When your book is almost ready for submission to agents and publishers, or for indie-publishing, these prompts enhance your author voice and give your writing a professional polish.
Here's an excerpt from the 'Plot Revision Prompts' section.
Please note: Rayne Hall writes in British English.
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: THE MC'S BIG SECRET
The main character has a secret. What is it?
He may have come to regret a mistake he made in his youth. Perhaps his work as an undercover agent requires him to hide his true identity. Or perhaps he keeps a secret to protect someone else.
What would be the disastrous consequences if someone discovered and revealed the truth? He might lose his career prospects or the respect of his community. The discovery might condemn him to a life sentence in prison, ruin the cause he's fighting for, or cause unbearable hurt to the one he loves.
What measures does he take to guard his secret? He may change the subject whenever the topic comes up, tell lies, change his name, wear a disguise, avoid people who might recognise him from his dark past.
When someone confronts him with the truth, what does he do? He may respond with angry denials, treat the suggestion as a joke, accuse the person of fabricating lies, or wrap himself in haughtiness and decline to react to such base allegations.
The further the plot progresses, the more entangled the pretence becomes. Even if he wanted to come clean, it's too late.
What if the MC decides (probably at the novel's climax) to end the deceit and confess all... including his previous lies?
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: ADD AN ANIMAL CHARACTER
Readers like animal characters. Could your MC have an animal sidekick? What kind of animal is it?
This could be a 'normal' pet like a dog, cat or horse, or something unusual, such as a goat, ferret or camel. (What's normal or unusual, plausible or implausible, depends on the culture and the location – a dog would be an uncommon choice in a Muslim society, while in Britain it would be difficult to keep a camel.) If possible, choose a kind of animal you know well, so you can write about it with knowledge and authenticity. If you keep rats, give your MC a rat companion. If you love horse riding, let the special animal be a horse.
Do the MC and her animal already have an established bond at the beginning of the novel, or are they meeting for the first time? The initial encounter can serve to establish the MC's likeability (especially if she rescues the animal from harm) and warm the reader's heart.
Develop the animal as a real character, with likes, dislikes, interests and habits.
The animal needs to play an active role in the plot.
What if the villain kidnaps or threatens the animal to blackmail the MC? What if something unusual about the animal's behaviour alerts the MC to an unseen danger? What if the villain attacks the MC, and the animal leaps into the fight?
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: WHAT'S THE GOAL, AND WHAT'S AT STAKE?
What does the MC want or need and try to achieve throughout the story? If you weren't aware of this goal while writing the draft, now is the time to identify it.
Does she need to find a good man to marry, or a serial killer to arrest? Is she questing for an ancient treasure, trying to solve the dark mystery of her past, or developing a cure for cancer?
Establish this goal as early as possible in your novel. Depending on the genre and the structure, you may be able to state the goal on the first page.
Why does she want to achieve this goal? Give her several reasons - some of which she shares in public, others are private and may even be secret. Some reasons are emotional, others rational. Some are selfish, others selfless.
Let's say the MC is a homicide detective. Her goal is to hunt down and arrest the serial killer who murders ten-year-old boys. Her cocktail of reasons: she wants to prevent more children dying, she wants justice, she wants to prove that a woman can do this job, she wants to get promoted within the homicide department, she wants to wipe that contemptuous smirk off her colleague's face, she wants to avenge the sweet neighbour boy who was the killer's first victim, she wants her town to be safe, she wants to feel a useful member of the police force, she wants her father to be proud of her ... that's nine.
Give your MC at least five reasons for what she wants, more if you can.
What's at stake? What would be the consequences of her failure?
In the case of the killer-hunting detective, these might include: more children would die, she would never gain her father's respect, families would move away from the town, her colleague would despise her, she would feel like a failure, and more.
Raise the stakes as high as possible, and remind your readers often what's at stake.
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: WORK YOUR THEME
What's your book's theme? You may have written the novel without a theme in mind, but now that the draft is complete, you can identify it.
The theme may be a moral – a message your reader walks away with, the lesson absorbed. Keep it to a simple statement, such as:
Love conquers all.
Good triumphs over evil.
Who dares, wins.
It could also be two virtuous values warring in the MC's mind. She holds both dear and tries to pursue them at the same time, but has to make tough decisions and sacrifice one for the other. This type of theme is based on the MC's inner conflict and works especially well in heart-wrenching novels and works with emotional depth.
Here are examples:
Honour versus loyalty.
Honesty versus love.
Justice versus peace.
Now you've chosen your theme, make the most of it. In what additional ways could you develop it in your novel?
Ideally, every scene should contribute to the theme, even if it's only in a small way. For example, if your theme is 'honour versus loyalty', you could tweak every scene so someone behaves either honourably or honestly in some way.
In crucial scenes – at the novel's turning points – it's worth milking the theme in a big way, for example by forcing the MC to choose between honesty and loyalty.
What if, during the novel's Black Moment, the opposite of the theme seems true? For instance, if the theme is 'good triumphs over evil', then evil triumphs during the Black Moment.
What if, during the novel's Black Moment or Climax scenes, the MC has to choose between her two values, sacrificing one for the other? For example, if the theme is 'honesty versus loyalty', she has to tell a lie in order to be loyal, or to be disloyal in order to serve the truth.
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: WHAT WOULD THE MC NEVER DO?
Consider your MC's deeply held values, believes and principles. What would she never do?
For example, your MC is a deeply moral woman who disdains carnality and the one thing she would never do is practice prostitution.
Let her state this several times in the story in different ways. She may say, "I would never sell my body!" or she may make disdainful remarks about women who do.
What would have to happen to make her to the one thing she thinks she would never do? Obviously, these have to be unforeseen, drastic circumstances. Make them happen in your novel.
If your moral MC would never prostitute herself, put her in a situation where her children are starving, and the only way to put food on the table is to accept a wealthy man's offer for a night.
The MC forced to act against her deeply held values gives the readers a compelling story they cannot forget.
What if your MC would never tell a lie... and then has to lie to get out of a situation alive?
What if the villain forces her to do the one thing she would never willingly consent to?
What if she is a pacifist who would never use violence... and then she gets the chance to assassinate the dictator who is about to order a holocaust?
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: MAKE READERS LIKE YOUR MC FROM THE START
Let your MC do a good deed in the first scene, if possible on the first page. Ideally, he's protecting someone helpless, and he does it in a matter-of-course way, not making a big deal of it.
For best effect, let the person he helps be someone helpless who can't help themselves, and nobody else is making a move to to help. The MC takes the necessary action, then continues pursuing his goal.
This will only need a paragraph or so. Look at the opening scene, and consider whom he can help and in what way, without requiring major changes to the scene.
What if he sees a cat trapped under a car and frees it?
What if he witnesses a child getting bullied and intervenes?
What if he sees a man molesting a woman and steps in?
What if he aids a frail old lady walk down the stairs?
What if he helps a frightened old man cross a busy road?
What if he holds the door open for a wheelchair user?
What if he offers his seat to an exhausted mother?
If your MC has an animal companion, this can be a good way to introduce them. The MC rescues the animal, and the animal becomes his loyal companion.
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: GIVE YOUR MC A DISABILITY
Readers root for characters with disability. Could your MC be physically disabled? If this doesn't work for the plot, perhaps one of the MC's allies could have a handicap.
If possible, write about what you know. Choose a disability you're familiar with, either because you live it or because someone you know well does. This allows you to write with plausibility and authenticity. You know what it's like and don't need to rely on your imagination and stereotypes.
Make the disability part of the plot. How does it hamper the character's pursuits?
What if she needs to make a quick getaway – but can't in her wheelchair?
What if she needs to enter a building which has no wheelchair ramp?
What if she knows the phone call is urgent and will save lives – but she can't hear, and nobody else is around?
What if she needs to find an object, and can't see, so she has to rely on touch for her search?
What if people are scared when seeing her malformed face?
What if she can't get a job because her constant muscle twitches make potential employers uncomfortable?
Readers cheer when a character uses a disability to advantage. Think of situations where you could make this happen as part of the plot.
What if she uses her crutch to hit the emergency off-switch nobody else can reach?
What if she uses her facial disfigurement to frighten the superstitious evil-doer into revealing what he's done?
What if several people are trapped in total darkness and panicking, while the blind MC moves with her usual confidence and finds a way out?
PLOT REVISION PROMPT: WHAT DOES THE MC FEAR MOST?
What does our MC fear? Perhaps he worries about losing his professional licence, having his home repossessed, getting outed as gay, or his ex-wife winning custody of their kids. Maybe he's terrified of poverty, sickness or dishonour. He could have a phobia - what if he fears spiders, enclosed spaces, or heights?
Establish this fear on several occasions during the novel's first half. Then, in the second half, make it happen.
What if the villain knows the MC's dark secret and leaks it to the press?
What if the villain uses the MC's terror of snakes and throws him into a snake pit?
What if the hero has a phobia of heights, but the only way to rescue his little daughter is to climb down a steep cliff?
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