Saturday, 27 April 2013

X is for X-ray

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan /
You've written your first draft and let it sit for a while, now what?

One of the first things I do is perform an x-ray to ensure the skeleton/structure of the story is intact.

I very often write a scene list in the planning stages before ever writing a single word, but I rarely stick to this completely as things change and develop during the drafting stage. So, on this first read through I write up a new scene list, making a note of all the important things that happen in each scene. Once this is complete I can see the bare bones of the story all in one place. I will highlight the scenes where all the basic plot points (inciting incident, turning point, climax etc) take place in a different colour and then I will be able to see at a glance whether the structure is balanced.

For example, if the inciting incident is happening too late then I know I need to either rearrange the scenes in the beginning to bring it forward, or delete them altogether and start later in the story.

I can also tell by looking over this list whether there are any plot holes that need to be addressed, whether the pace needs adjusting, and whether the character arcs are complete. I can also play around with the order of the scenes, without actually changing the manuscript, to see what would work best.

Having the whole novel compressed into a scene list like this also helps you to focus on the plot and character arcs without getting distracted by correcting a bit of dialogue here, a spelling mistake there, or adding some description. It also makes it easier to cut a scene when you aren't looking at all those words you spent hours over.

Once the bones of the story have been straightened out and put in the right place I know the structure works and I can now focus on making the writing itself better.

How about you? What process do you use when you begin the revision stage? Do you perform an x-ray? Please share in the comments section below, I'd love to hear from you.


  1. I generally don't plan much, though I am erring more toward it these days. I used to just fly by the seat of my pants, always, but I have had to admit recently that at least a little planning doesn't go astray. I just have to be careful not to overplan, otherwise I get bored.

  2. Very clever incorporation of X (I cheated a little with mine) haha.

    I don't do this at all. It's probably because I edit and revise and rearrange as I go, though. My x-ray is more of a constant open-bone surgery... everything doesn't get sewn back together until the patient is ready to be formatted and sent to the printer. (this is a creepy metaphor)

    I used to write by the seat of my pants like Trisha said... but then discovered that re-writing is FAR more painful and tedious (for me) than outlining. So, I do more basic outlining at the out-set, try to let the story flow and go where it will, and maybe do a second, more detailed, outline when I'm about 1/2way through once I have a better feel for the story.

  3. I revise a little as I pick up for a new session but since I'm more pantser than plotter my full revisions don't come till I'm pretty sure I've finished creating. Then it's a fine tooth comb, quite a few times, to make sure everything fits! Nancy at Welcome to she said, he said

  4. It's harder for a pantser to use this technique, but it seems more efficient.