Revising Using the Three-Act Structure

unnamed-2            This past week I’ve gone back into the 4th draft of my manuscript and, using the notecard outline from that draft, plotted it onto the three-act structure.

I did this because I knew the plot was lacking, and going back to the basics of planning a novel was the only way I could see to figure out what still needed fixing. What I learned? My story was stopping before certain major plot points happened. Namely, I was essentially finishing the story at what would only be the end of Act Two.

Last week I mentioned how short I thought the word count for draft four was, and considering it was missing an entire act that makes much more sense now. It also explains why after draft three I realized I’d never written a climax scene into my novel and had to go back and build up to that in draft 4.

I’ve been writing the new scenes I mapped out suing the three-act structure, and I have a few tips that go along with this.

1)    It’s never too late to replot.

Whether you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser during the planning stage, no novel will be at its best until revisions include outlining. More than that, you’ll outline before, during, and after every single round you do. That’s just the way it is. Sound stressful? It can be, unless you consider that replotting gives you permission to never really stick to that plot. In the six scenes I’ve been writing this week, I’ve already deviated during the drafting.

The 2,000 words I wrote today I know involve a voice unlike what I’ve already used for that POV character in the chapters that I’ve already revised. Oh, well. I kind of like this new voice, at least elements of it. And I Know more revisions have to take place in the rest of the novel, as I’m far from done. So, better to realize where the plot holes are and replot than let it turn to trash.

2)    Don’t worry about the length of each act.

If you were using the three-act structure before the first draft, then I’d say make a word-count goal for each scene or chapter. But in the case of a manuscript already mostly drafted, just let it happen. In my first two acts, I have multiple chapters/scenes that belong to the same plot point. I also have scenes that I wrote because I like them in the story. These scenes build character, world build, or move along the plot in some way not directly explained by the plot points in the three-act structure.

On the opposite hand, the scenes I’ve plotted now that I realized they were missing? One scene per plot point, and often less than 2,000 words (I’m aiming for between 2000-3000 words per chapter). I think for the second half of the second and the third act this is okay because the action should be speeding up anyway.

3)    Understand that you will have to make major changes

If you feel the need to plot your already revised manuscript (or not revised if this is between the first and second drafts) then odds are you’re already aware it’s missing something. This means when you’re done plotting it out, you’re going to have to write scenes from scratch all over again, which for me is proving the hardest part.

After almost a year on this project, (and a failed Nano project in November) it’s been a while since I’ve gotten into writing from scratch. I’ve been revising several drafts and can get pretty creative doing that. But staring at a blank page? It’s like I’ve forgotten how to write altogether. I’ve been combatting this with writing sprints on MyWriteClub.

If you, like me, wish you could just be done with revisions and letting someone else read it, take a deep breath and remember why it matters to you that this story be amazing. It’s tempting to send your MS off to a critique partner, beta reader or even start querying, in the hope your revisions will become easier and clearer with someone else’s feedback.

But like I said, if you’re reading this post or you’ve already been thinking about replotting your project in any capacity, then you know something’s missing. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by sending something off that you already know isn’t complete. Sit down, breath, and make the changes. It’ll be worth it when the next time you look at it you can see how much better that draft is.

            This is technically the fourth tip, but important enough that I want to wrap up with it rather than include it in that chunky text above.

Don’t get discouraged. I’m facing this issue myself, where all the revisions and feeling of incompleteness that surrounds my MS makes me just want to move on to the next project. It’s extra tempting because starting March 1st I’ll be beginning to research and outline a different book for camp nanowrimo in April. But even if this MS never sees the light of day, going through every step of revisions until I’m absolutely positive it’s the best it will ever be, is a learning experience I can’t pass up.

When you’re looking at your MS and only seeing it’s problems, consider the passion and idea that originally sparked you to write that first draft. Don’t give up on the experience that seeing this project through will give you, even if when you finally reach that summit you just put the project in a drawer and move on.