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Lesson 5 Plan of Attack

Let’s Dig In (Finally)

Now the real nitty-gritty work begins.

We are…yes, getting organized again. But this time, we’re digging deep. Everything you do in this lesson is setting you up for seamless revisions. You’ll be so organized, you’ll just sail through each chapter’s edits as if you were literally…I don’t know. On a sailboat.

Either way, you’ll be glad for all the organizing you did before this, and you’ll be really glad you did all the steps in this Lesson once you get through.

Gather Your Tools

For this lesson, we’re going to need:

  • Our index card outline
  • The Master List of Solutions
  • Pens in four different colors
  • Post-its in four different colors (if you have a lot of problems or one Master List)
  • Your filled-in worksheets for Plot, Character, Setting, Other
  • Your printed and marked-up manuscript
  • Any extra notes you might want to have on hand

Basically, you need everything. So make sure you’ve got some space. I like to work at an empty desk or on a rug where my dogs and daughter cannot interfere.

You pick wherever feels most comfortable and creative for you. But do know you’ll be using all of these items, so having easy access and mobility is helpful!

Make a Plan for Every Scene

This is where the process gets long, but I really promise—especially if you’re new to revising—you will be glad you did this.

By the time you’re done with this lesson, you will have such an intimate knowledge of what you need to change in your manuscript, you might be able to do it without even consulting the cards. (And that, my friends, is the first step toward internalizing this process and becoming an intuitive reviser like I now am!)

Let’s start with your first index card that represents your first scene. If you look at your manuscript + worksheets, you can see exactly what issues are in the scene.

You can also see if the issue is Plot, Character, Setting, or Other—and pick which pen color (or post-it color) you want to use for each issue.

So let’s go back to our ongoing examples, and follow them all the way from manuscript to index card. 

1. Find the problem in the manuscript.

Let’s say in scene 1 you have an issue on page 7 that you describe in your other worksheet as:

  • This feels boring and slow. Pacing problem?

However, through the course of creating your Master List of Problems, you decided that issue was actually tied to the lack of a desperate desire for your main character.

2. Consult the Master List of Solutions.

After brainstorming with a friend, you came up with the solution to raise the stakes by adding a literal ticking bomb the main character, Hannah, desperately needs to rewire.

Since a bomb is a story element (versus a character change or world building detail), then you consider this a “plot” solution on your Master List of Solutions.

3. Add the solutions to the scene card.

Now that you’ve found your solution, you will write it in the corresponding color on your scene 1 index card:

  • Introduce the ticking bomb here!

Since I like to make plot blue, I would write that note in a blue pen!

Maybe you’ve also decided to add a sister that will die if the bomb goes off. You’ve put this on your Master List of Solutions as a Character fix. So you add in (insert your color here—I like purple) to the index card:

  • Introduce the sister, Iris.

And hey, since you’re really wanting to do a lot in this opening scene, you also decide to include a note on the card that says:

  • Hint at complicated backstory between Hannah and Iris that will later explain why the main character is so angry her sister is in this position with the ticking bomb

That’s a lot to write, so why don’t you get out a purple post-it and stick it on the scene card instead of cramming it on the card in purple pen?

Now you’ve reached the end of your list of problems and solutions for scene #1, so…

An example of a scene card for Screechers with my Plan of Attack notes added
An example of a scene card for Screechers with my Plan of Attack notes added

4. Move on to the next scene.

Take steps 1-3 and do them for every single scene in your index card stack. To remind you, the steps are:

  1. Consult the manuscript and the worksheets for the problem.
  2. Check your Master List of Solutions for the story fix.
  3. Crite all the fixes needed for that scene in color-coded pens or post-its on the index card.

I am well aware that this doesn’t sound particularly exciting, and yes, it’s a long, long process. Especially if your book is a big one! But going through every scene like this will allow you to know exactly what you must do to fix your story when you actually revise.

You won’t have to second guess in the next lesson. You’ll be ready, organized, and intimately familiar with all the fixes your story needs.

Be Flexible

I realize this process seems to be the antithesis of flexible, but in fact, it allows you to be more flexible now than you might be later.

Isn’t it better to start adding changes to your scene cards and realize NOW that a solution won’t actually work? You can go ahead and start brainstorming new, better solutions instead.

Or even more exciting, you might find better solutions for your Master List as you go through each scene card.

There is no “wrong way” to do this. We’re really just trying to get everything ready so we have an easier time later on when we make our actual changes to the manuscript.

Don’t Forget to Add or Cut!

There is a very high chance you will discover scenes are missing. Maybe you realize you need some flashbacks between Hannah and her sister Iris…or an extra scene showing how bad the villain really is.

When this happens, make a new scene card and slide it into your outline deck! You don’t need to write the scene now (unless you want to, of course).

Or it’s possible, on the flip side, you’ll realize you need to cut scenes! No problem. Just make note of that on the scene card. (But keep the card in your deck so you can remember to cut that scene when you get to it in revisions.)

And of course, you might decide to combine scenes. I do this frequently because I discover two scenes are filling the same role in the story, so I will take the most important pieces from each and weave them into something new.

Again, make note of that plan on the card, and write something like: Combine this scene with scene #.

At the end of this lesson, you should have a hefty stack of scene cards—possibly a taller stack than you started with!

And you’re also ready now to finally get to the main event: actually revising and changing your manuscript.