Create a Master List

Because we have already separated out each story issue by plot, character, setting, and other, we are already halfway through the “organizing step” of creating our Master List.

Now it’s simply a matter of combing through those worksheets in search of the broad themes.

I want you to get a notebook or some blank sheets of paper or open a new digital document or even grab a stack of index cards. Use whatever you’re most comfortable with!

I personally like to do all of this in a Word document that I can print out (or add to my ReMarkable) later as an actual physical checklist to work through.

Now beginning with your plot worksheet, go through your list of issues and make note of where they overlap, where they are part of a broader “umbrella” issue, and where it’s really just a localized scene problem.

Then move to Character, then Setting, then Other. (And note: you can totally break down the “other” section into more granular levels if you want! A “pacing” section or a “scene conflict” section, for example. Totally up to you!)

Remember that list of possible issues I shared in Lesson 2? Let’s pull from that for a moment and say you have the following issues show up in every scene:

  • A character acting out of character.
  • A character whose goal doesn’t feel real or desperate enough in each scene.

Those two issues might be a sign that your main character is making choices for the sake of the plot instead of based on who they are as a person and what they desperately desire.

So on my Character Master List, I would write:

  • Character X’s main desire isn’t desperate enough, and so they are making choices that don’t make sense to who they are. 
What if I’m totally new to this craft stuff, Sooz, and have no idea what’s connected and what isn’t?

That is okay! As mentioned in the last lesson, teaching you about the nuts and bolts of craft is beyond the scope of this course. But as I also mentioned then, I have the following resources that might help you learn your craft:

But do keep in mind that you knew enough about craft to write a novel! So it’s very likely you will know enough here to get organized—and eventually find solutions to the issues too! 💚

It’s highly possible that as you get deeper and deeper into the worksheets, you will find more and more overlap. You’ll sense where, Oh this plot problem might actually be a character problem. Or you’ll see how by deepening the world over here, that will ultimately affect your character’s arc too.

It’s for this reason that I prefer working in a Word document—it’s easier for changing things as I go. When I realize that two seemingly separate problems are actually part of a broader issue, I can organize my document to show that.

But just remember: our goal in this lesson is to have a thorough but shorter list of all our problems. That way we can go into our next lesson, Finding Your Fixes, with a broad, macroscopic view of what is and isn’t working in the story.

As mentioned, this might be your hardest lesson…or it might be your easiest. Neither way is “more virtuous” nor “more correct.” It’s just a matter of how your brain is wired. Are you good at spotting or sensing problems? Or is this a challenge?

When I first began, it was not easy for me at all. Now, however, I can read a book and immediately sense where something isn’t working.

Be patient. And if you need help from outside readers, that is always allowed.

Now let’s move on and get organized to actually revise!