One of the strengths of the detailed synopsis method of novel writing is that it makes rewrites much easier. I had written up to about midway through chapter 5 of TPOAP when I realized that I didn’t care for the structure of the first third of the story. The structure made sense in the synopsis, but having written it, I could tell that it was lacking a thread to tie it together. Characters were doing reasonable things — things that needed to be done. If this had been real life, these were all things that the characters would do and no one would bat an eye.
But it lacked narrative impetus, and at one crucial juncture, it lacked action. It needed something more.
Having an outline won’t help you to generate the spark you need to fix an issue like this. I solved it using the same technique that I used to arrive at a title. I walked the dog, and talked about the issue out loud, to myself. Within a few minutes, I’d landed on a solution.
I made a minor change to the first chapter. Narratively, it was a simple change. But the change allowed Lincoln to find something that solved a lot of structural problems. It provided a mystery that actually drives Lincoln throughout the early chapters. As Lincoln solves the mystery incrementally, it illuminates things that happen later so they feel more earned and less like a surprise. It also suggested an opportunity for more directed action.
That’s all nice, but how does having a synopsis help?
First, it lets you make sure that the changes you’re going to make actually work with the rest of your story’s structure. How will it affect the way the themes come through? Will it affect the ending itself? It’s way better to figure this stuff out now in the synopsis than to do your rewrites, then just keep cruising toward where you thought you were headed before and finding out that everything had changed.
From a purely practical standpoint, because I had each chapter summarized, I was able to go back and roll these new ideas into the summary to see how they fit. For old material that was no longer needed, I kept it there but used the strikethrough font. I entered new synopsis material in red so it would stand out.
Once I had that squared away, I went back to the manuscript, starting with Chapter 1. I read the chapter, and used the strikethrough on anything that had to go, with the synopsis changes as a guide. Portions that would be moved to other chapters were removed entirely and placed in a new document that I called “Parking Lot”. Then, I performed another pass on the strikethrough doc, writing the new text.
Working that way, I retained probably 90% of the material I’d written, and ended up adding to the overall word count. I scrapped what I had of Chapter 5 entirely, which amounted to around 7,000 words. Oh well.
In the end, it’s on you and your storytelling instincts to determine that your book has a problem, and what the narrative solution is. But, if you keep yourself organized and have a detailed synopsis, you can make the actual rewriting be the least painful part of the process.Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)