Friday, 13 September 2013

Taking Stock

Apologies for another cookery pun (see my last post), but a week has passed, I’ve had another rejection and I haven’t written a single word of my difficult fourth draft. All of this would normally cause me great melancholy, and yet I feel vastly more confident about the book than I did a week ago. This counter-intuitive turn of events is partly due to getting some help from the excellent Jane McLoughlin and partly because I now know exactly what to fix in the novel and how to fix it.

What’s changed? Well, I got out my copy of Novel Metamorphosis (as mentioned last week) and forced myself to fill out the “Novel Inventory”. This is a chapter by chapter breakdown of both the outer and the inner action of the story, so you can see the plot and emotional arcs side by side. It also asks you questions about the conflict and climax of the story and helps you to identify what is strong and weak about your work in progress.

There are plenty of other tools similar to the Novel Inventory out there - the book mentions an alternative condensed spreadsheet view of the chapters and The Golden Egg Academy uses their own Book Map to guide authors. But despite knowing about these tools, I often avoid them (to my cost). Part of the reason is fear, the fear that I’ll discover something dreadfully wrong with my novel that requires me to completely rewrite it. The other aspect is the surprisingly large time investment required to compile the inventory, time that seems wasted when I‘ve set myself a tight timescale to produce another draft. I tend to just plunge in and then have an inevitable panic about a third of the way in when I realise I don’t know what I’m doing!

The objective of the Novel Inventory is to catalogue the book you’ve written, rather than the book you think you’ve written. I’m normally pretty good at keeping a whole novel in my head and identifying where I need to rewrite for added impact as I go along. However, I’ve realised that this rewriting has been predominantly plot-focused, so (thanks to the Novel Inventory) I’ve found quite a few sections of the book where the voice and emotional impact could be stronger. Once I’d identified this phenomenon, I discovered I could actually predict which scenes would be the most problematic as I went through, where before I wouldn’t even have known to look for the problem.

Finding out what we don’t know or don’t do well is an essential (albeit painful) part of growing as a writer. It’s why an external eye is so important when revising a manuscript and also why (I admit) it’s worth taking some time to plan and assess before you begin your revisions. Hopefully, next week, I will start laying down some words again!

If you want to use the Novel Inventory, I think you have to buy Darcy Pattison’s book, but her website does include tons of useful tips and information on manuscript revision.



  1. Getting some kind of map on a MS, especially ones over 25K seems pretty key. Otherwise the bits start to leak out of my brain. I've tried cards on a pin board but don't really have the space for it at the moment.

  2. Thanks for the mention, Nick, and I'm glad I was of some help. It really was a case of "hey, I do that" and working through the issue. I feel the same trepidation about these books and websites (I'm going to be caught out!!) but they're usually helpful. Darcy Pattinson's certainly was (recommended by Sarah O'Connor on W & P as I recall...) Good luck with your editing!

  3. Haven't heard of that one - I'm gonna have a look. Good luck - and don't forget to enjoy.

  4. There's something in the air, Nick - did you read my post about The Joy of Synopses? Similar theme.
    Thanks for the book recommendation - and a good piece as ever.

  5. Fantastic. I SO know what you mean about avoiding doing this sort of thing in case it means you have a major re-write. Head in the sand is sometimes a good place to be, although not a very useful one! Will now actually get on with it though and start that inventory!

  6. I've recently discovered how useful staplers can be when taking stock.
    Dividing and stapling MS into chapters is a revelation to me.
    Good luck, Nick.