Writing: Revising Your Plot

When you begin a story or novel, you have some ideas on how it unfolds. But as you revise, you discover threads that didn’t exist when you started.

Writing Tip for Today: How can we amend a plotline or story arc if it has changed since it began?


We’ve all heard about plotters and pantsters—those who either outline strategically before they write or totally wing it as they write, Even if you plot meticulously, you’re bound to want some changes when you revise. For pantsters, this stage is an opportunity to refine the best ideas and toss those that aren’t pulling their weight.

I like to think that a major reason for these revision changes is because you know your characters much more intimately now that they’ve lived in your head for a novel-length of time. You’ve likely embellished and deepened your character’s wants and desires to strengthen the logic of why this character will pursue the novel’s goals.

As your characters develop, you might want to keep a record of the more intimate details and especially their motivations for the story. Use a program like Scrivener or a paper notebook to record these developments. You’ll want to remember these enhancements as you revise. This is especially important for inserting subplots.


As you create these new angles for your story, be logical. Readers need this kind of story logic to link the events and feel satisfied with how it all turns out. If you tell your readers that the character is passionate about baking but never show her in a kitchen, readers will wonder why you bothered them with an illogical cue.

On the other hand, as you’re logical, be gentle. Avoid hitting readers over the head with whatever you’ve added to the plot. Too much repetition bores readers unless you rachet up the tension with each scene. Tension should always point to the ways your character is willing to act to reach that goal and the worthy obstacles that stand in the way.

Your climax scene is the culmination of all this tension. If you’ve hidden a key motivation for your character but told readers that in back story the character was deeply affected by this same secret, readers are better able to link the events in a logical way. For instance, if you establish early on that your character’s mom died from cancer, but hide until the climax that the murderer was in chemo, readers should experience a satisfied “aha!” moment when all  is revealed.

Readers should experience a satisfied “aha!” moment when all  is revealed.

Managing Details

As you revise with new additions to the story, be mindful of how often you throw new details at the reader. As I’ve said before, you are your readers’ manager. You direct them to remember this, ignore that by how much you dwell on a point. “She turned toward the street,” may be a directional detail that only gets readers to the real point, or it may be an emotional moment that means everything to the character.

By using brevity vs. length, foreshadowing vs. withholding and building tension, you as manager should be able to guide readers to the desired emotional response. Foreshadowing involves “planting” clues in your revision, and withholding means that you don’t give away specific information so as to maintain tension.

When you revise your drafted story, you’ll find a lot has changed. Whether you outline or plot-as-you-go, be willing to insert the details not in the original story line. Then as you revise, pull those threads through logically and in a way that keeps readers asking, “And what happened then?”

What’s your method for revising your story line?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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